This year’s “Summer of Isolation” originally seemed like it would be monotonous and boring. But, thanks to Stand Together, it was anything but that! After working extensively on school-specific projects for my school, West Allegheny, during the school closures, I saw an opportunity on Stand Together’s Instagram to join an All-School Summer Project. This post immediately caught my eye because Stand Together teams usually just work within their schools. But, as 2020 has continually shown us; anything is possible! I applied to work on these foreign All-School Summer Projects as soon as I saw the post and couldn’t wait to get to work.
~Click on the text links above to access the eZines!~
The All-School Summer Projects (<< link!) started off with big, virtual meetings. In these initial meetings, the Summer Team, with students from West Allegheny, Montour, Shaler, CAPA, and the Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy, shared ideas on what projects we could do. With limited options, FundaMENTALs: A Youth’s Guide to Mental Health Zines and Unless… A Teenage Discussion on Mental HealthPodcasts were chosen as the projects that we would pursue. The Summer Team split, and I pursued the Zines. After weekly, team-specific meetings throughout the summer, we were able to release three great editions of the Zines; ranging in topics from ADHD to Anxiety to Eating Disorders. Personally, I learned so much regarding these topics, but I also gained skills in communication and collaboration, especially in difficult circumstances. I am certain that readers, too, learned facts, statistics, and other perspectives on the topics. Writing and contributing to the Zines made my “Summer of Isolation” much more enjoyable and memorable.
I would pursue it again in a heartbeat!
Connor from West Allegheny HS was a member of our All-School Summer Project’s eZine team. Thanks, Connor!
For more information on West Allegheny’s Stand Together projects, click here.
Every year this is always the most difficult blog to write because I don’t know where to begin to describe the talent and passion of the youth that I am so blessed to work with. I usually only try to speak for myself, but I can say with 100% certainty that Montaja, Mike, all our TAs, and I are so incredibly proud of each and every one of you. This week’s Recognition Event was an absolutely magical experience and if you missed it, we can’t wait to share it with you!
A little bit about Stand Together/this year: ST has been in schools for the past six years, expanding each year to reach more and more middle and high school youth through student-driven anti-stigma projects that are increasing education and awareness, promoting social inclusion, and encouraging help-seeking behaviors. This year, ST trained 18 schools, 16 of which completed projects, and 14 were able to participate in this year’s event. The Heinz History Center was packed with youth and adult advocates that are enthusiastic about ending the stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders. This was our biggest year yet, with around 300 in attendance!
Our schools designed and implemented so many unique and innovative projects for their peers. The tried & true food and beverage stands are always a hit. Mental health fairs and presentations are making a come-back. Several schools decorated 1 in 4 stairs and their stairwells, while others created murals and plastered pledges on the walls. Some of our most creative projects for this year included Propel BHHS’s ‘Shine a Light on Mental Health’ paper lantern activity, WMHS’s ‘Toilet Talk’ booth, Shaler HS’s ‘Truth Tree,’ and SVMS’s ‘March Madness’ basketball tournament. Each year the students’ projects amaze us more and more, but the most important piece is the impact the students share about the changes that are taking place in their school culture. Take a look:
CAPA’s The Real Tea
Montour’s ‘Be Sweet, Not Sour’
South Park team
Propel S-Know Cones
SciTech students ‘hearing voices’ at Shaler HS
W. Allegheny friends
Student presenters shared that students are more comfortable talking about mental health and are more apt to reach out to ask questions and seek help. Students are using less stigmatizing language and aware and respectful of the invisible challenges they may be facing. The school culture is more accepting, encouraging, and supportive. Teachers and staff are forming relationships with students and challenging their own assumptions and stigmas. Lives are being changed daily thanks to the work of these students and advisors and we couldn’t be more proud.
Stigma is not gone, but little by little, our teams
N. Allegheny students at the photo booth
are ‘chipping’ (cookie joke) away to break stigma and create better mental health environments in schools and even their communities. Events like these help the students see that they are part of something bigger than the projects in their individual schools-they can and are making a difference. As our keynote speaker remarked, ‘You may never know the ripple effects of your work,’ but we can already see the changes that are taking place-and we look forward to an even ‘brighter’ (lantern pun) future for mental and substance use disorders.
We can’t thank you enough for all the time, talent, and commitment you’ve contributed to this cause. We’re lucky enough to be able to lay the foundation-and then you run with your ideas and plans and turn this into something marvelous and meaningful. To our all teams, congratulations on another amazing year stopping stigma, one project at a time.
Shaler Area High School is returning for its second year with Stand Together. We were impressed with the impact of their ‘truth booth’ project last year and the vulnerability of the entire student body. This year, of course, the ‘truth booth’ is being resurrected, along with a few other activities for another great year.
Many of the students returned from last year, but there were plenty of new faces that joined the team this year. One of my favorite moments was when two students connected over a discussion about therapy; one student was asking questions about partial hospitalization (that means when someone can go to school or work, but still has extensive amounts of group and individual therapy, usually 3 or so hour/day) and another student willingly shared some of her own experiences. This was incredibly powerful. Stand Together sees the incredible value in youth that have experienced these difficulties, whether themselves or someone they know, and their great opportunity to enact change from a lived-perspective. Sharing our stories helps others know it’s okay to not to be okay, you’re not alone, and help is out there; it can get better. There is hope; there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
We also had a lot of fun. The ‘fan favorite’ Ships & Sailors resulted in hilarious outbursts as students dramaticized movements and reactions. We had a lot of theater participants in the room and it clearly showed! The students also learned how to work together. Like many of our groups, the Stand Together team at SAHS was a diverse team of students. But after the first day, they were well on their way to forming a unified front against stigma.
One of my favorite parts of the day is the time we spend in circles. I know it sounds cliche, but this ‘circle time’ is where a lot of the ‘magic happens.’ Students find out that they have more in common than separates them, they get to know each other, and more importantly, they get to share pieces about themselves and how they’re going to use their passion and the information they learned to help others. This is always a moving time for me as students share things they learned, what they’re going to change, and what they’re going to contribute to the project. By the end of the second day, these students were ready to go.
These students also came up with some amazing ideas during their project piece. Using some of the activities we facilitate in trainings, as well as some creative new ideas, the students planned some amazing events for this year. We’re looking forward to this year’s visual, student activity fair, and newest version of the ‘truth booth.’ Thank you, SAHS, for not being afraid to #talkaboutit and #standtogether against stigma.
Stand Together students had another phenomenal year and our team couldn’t wait to celebrate with and recognize them for all of their hard work to end stigma in their schools! I had the pleasure of working with many of our high schools this year and they blew me away with their passion, commitment, and courage.
This year’s projects were innovative, creative, and incredibly impactful. We trained nine high schools, seven completed projects, and six participated in the recognition event. Here’s what the students designed and implemented at their schools this year:
The Academy Charter School: The Academy chose a different approach to decreasing stigma in their school by creating a ‘safe space’ for students who might be struggling with something. This room was staffed by faculty and had many coping techniques available, including quiet music, comfy chairs, sensory objects, and inspirational MH images. In addition, the students promoted education and self-care with the faculty by giving out cups with coffee/tea, an awareness wristband, and a bookmark with the ST anti-stigma pledge on it. In working with the faculty, they hoped to increase their knowledge and change attitudes that would hopefully filter down to the students.
Taylor Allderdice High School (PPS): The students at Allderdice created and presented a mini-presentation about mental health and stigma to the freshman Civics classes. In addition, they worked with the art department to create a dragon (their mascot) painting. Students signed flames agreeing to ‘breath fire on stigma.’ This mural will remain a permanent fixture at the school signifying their solidarity in the fight against stigma. The Stand Together team finished their year with an 1:4 assembly, in which mental health and stigma was reviewed and the students were rewarded by pie-ing four teachers in the face for their participation in the year’s activities.
Propel-Braddock Hills High School: Propel HS has been in Stand Together for all five years! Switching things up from their typical ‘Black Out Stigma’ theme, this year the Stand Together students chose ‘BLOCK Out Stigma.‘ This theme utilized larger-than-life lego blocks for their projects that addressed all three of Stand Together’s goals: 1) ‘Block’ Stigma (education/awareness); 2) ‘Build’ Relationships (social inclusion); and 3) ‘Lego’ of Fear (ask-an-adult). Students did activities within their ‘crews’ (like homeroom) and during a ‘Block Party‘ during lunch. (All those puns!) PBHHS always comes up with out-of-the-box ideas that really get the student body interested and involved in Stand Together at their school.
Science & Technology Academy: Although SciTech’s group was small, they were mighty! Students were given cups of Lemonade for Change that had mental health facts on them. The team used the lemonade as an incentive to get their peers to visit their booth and learn about mental health in a casual environment. The team also made posters that were shared around the school to remind the students of what they had learned during the activities. They mentioned they could definitely see an impactwith their students and that students were very receptive and interested in what they had to say. Sounds like a success!
Shaler Area High School: Although it was their first year in Stand Together, Shaler did a great job incorporating two goals into two projects. During lunch, the team had students ‘Take a Bite out of Stigma‘ by reading facts about mental health and substance use disorders and stigma (education/awareness) before receiving a cookie. Students also participated in a social inclusion, ‘No One is Alone.‘ Several prompts were provided on a large poster and students had color-coded post-it notes to anonymously respond to the statements if they applied to themselves or someone they know. These statements included such as: I have been personally affected by a mental illness; I have been personally affected by substance use; I’ve felt excluded or disadvantaged. Students also received a ‘sucker to stop stigma.’ This project was incredibly moving; the post-its filled the entire poster and it was powerful to see so many students being honest about their struggles, but also have the visual to see that they are never alone in what they’re going through.
West Allegheny High School: A first-year school like Shaler, West A. did fantastic projects that were presented the information in fun, free food projects that were meaningful and memorable. Students not only engaged in ‘food give-aways‘ (including cookies, HerSHEy kisses, and gum>>check out their other blog for the great slogans!), but also began and ended their project season with assemblies for the student body. The first included an overview of Stand Together and mental health and the last had students participate in a ‘Mental Health Jeopardy.’ Trainer Danyelle also shared her recovery story for the group. The team remarked that students really enjoyed the activities and are excited to continue participating in Stand Together next year.
West Mifflin Area High School: This is also WMHS’s fifth year with Stand Together. This year’s projects included an ‘I am…’ reflective mural, their annual Glow Dance so spread awareness about mental health and substance use disorders and suicide, and a Mental Health Fair, featuring a Celebrity Art Gallery, depicting and describing celebrities that are affected by MH/SUD. Students have promoted social inclusion in a Worry Monster, in which students would right down a struggle with anxiety and students could see that they are not alone ; the team also responded to these with uplifting messages of encouragement and hope. In addition, the school’s ‘Safe Haven’ program promotes relationships with adults by creating ‘safe classrooms’ and ‘safe teachers’ that are trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and are willing and able to help students get the help they need.
Lacey and I are incredibly proud of all of our high schools and we look forward to working with you again next year! If you want to see more of these amazing projects, check out our YouTube Playlist, the individual school blogs, and the full-length Stand Together Student Project Reel 2018 below:
Many of the students in our Shaler HS group participate in the musical, so we know they like to ‘show-off,’ but they are also very passionate about mental health and speaking up to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders. They are more than excited to ‘show-up,’ ‘step-up,’ and speak out against stigma in creative ways. Even though it’s their first year in Stand Together, they definitely won’t disappoint!
These students love to have fun (check out how they play Ships and Sailors above! haha), but they also worked very hard to learn the material, participate actively in the discussions, and make new friends. The students were incredibly vulnerable with each other and shared many difficult experiences, which brought the group closer together and was very moving for the students, advisors, and myself.
I’ve been working with the students specifically on the goals of Stand Together: education/awareness, social inclusion, and ask-an-adult, but also trying to combine them all together to create a project that reflects the students concerns by asking them to finish the statement: ‘I want my peers to know…’ Students then use these ideas to design and focus their projects on what’s important to them. Making sure the students have a voice is an important part of Stand Together. When students are passionate about a cause, they will stop at nothing to achieve success. This Shaler group was no different!
Although it’s their first year, Shaler HS decided to do 3 projects, starting small and culminating with a serious, social inclusion activity. These students are going to use The Semicolon Project to connect all their projects together and stress that no one is alone and that every life matters. They also plan to build momentum by using the ‘element of surprise’ by hanging up semicolons across the school with no words, just the date of their first event and #stand2getherpgh. Would you expect any less than theatrics from this group? 🙂
We can’t wait to see how this project unfolds over the course of the year, especially the social inclusion poster project. Ideas like these remind us that this is such an important endeavor and our students are making strides in decreasing stigma, one school at a time. Thanks for all your work! ‘Break a leg’ at the musical and we’ll see your projects in March!