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Back at it again for the second time, Woodland Hills High School’s Stand Together team returns to shift the culture in their school when it comes to speaking up and out about mental health.
Woody High students came together on two days in January and both new-comers and returning students were ready to really make an impact in their school with the Stand Together message. This year, the group started meeting long before the training workshops took place to get a jump-start on the year. What dedication!
The first day of training re-introduced the students to the important signs and symptoms of mental and substances use disorders and refreshed their memories on what factors cause these emotional struggles. The Stand Together workshops strengthened the already strong bond this group had created during the pre-training meetings. Friendly competition arose when reviewing the information during trivia games and a unity formed while sharing their own experiences during and after Cross the Line.
The second workshop was more hands-on: project planning. Returning members shared feedback with their peers from last year’s activities. They had even handed out pencils with a survey link before the workshops to get more feedback from the larger student body. Team members shared what they want their peers and staff to know when it comes to reaching out for help and even just talking about the struggles they may be dealing with. They want their teachers to know the right information and resources to provide effective support when students come to them. They also want their peers to know that mental and substance use disorders are more common than we think and that it’s okay to get treatment. These students see the need and want to shift the culture and dismantle stigma.
The group brain-stormed elaborate new ideas and revisited ideas from last year with a twist. They really want to focus on providing clear information in a fun and engaging way. The group plans to hold a school assembly and mental health Kahoot! game tournament, as well as a possible ice cream social.
Staying true to Stand Together’s mission and goals, Woodland Hills is ready to rise up to the challenge again. We have no doubt that they will surprise us with their anti-stigma events this year. We can’t wait to see all your hard work in action!
Written by Montaja, trainer
Am I the only one that remembers that bizarre song? But I’m so excited to welcome Dorseyville (Fox Chapel) Middle School to the Stand Together program this year. This roaring group of almost 30 ‘foxes’ (their mascot) are ready to talk about mental and substance use disorders and ‘bark away’ stigma. (Yes, more fox puns…I couldn’t resist! – Don’t worry; they won’t be using this ridiculous phrase in their projects.)
The Dorseyville school and advisors were on-board from the very beginning. At our first meeting, there was a resounding Yes! to start a Stand Together chapter in the 2019-2020 school year. With administration, all the counselors, and a teacher advisor on-board, they were ready to jump in and hit the ground running! They easily hand-picked a large group of students to participate in the training. I was impressed with the balance of genders and variety of students they chose, including a handful of students that were not afraid to self-disclose their own experiences with mental illness.
This group was passionate from the get-go! Although it was a large group, students weren’t afraid to speak up and be heard among their peers, especially when it came to busting some of the myths and sparking conversations about examples of stigma and its negative effects on themselves and those around them. Some of the students were slow to warm-up, but eventually became comfortable with sharing in the group and were just as invested as their teammates. They learned so much so quickly-review was a blast! They really *sparkled!* (One of our review games is called Sparkle.)
The second workshop was where the students really *shined!* (see what I did there?) The students were so excited to share their ideas that I could barely get through the process discussion and examples! There were so many things that wanted their peers to know and so many ways they wanted to do so. By the end of the day, we settled on three projects with a spare if they have time at the end of the year. Lots of hands make the work light and lots of brains make the ideas flow freely!
This year, the team plans on hosting a snack stand, video/assembly, and 1:4 sticky note project. They started off thinking about doing donuts, but with 1000# students in their school, that could get pretty expensive! So they settled on brownie and lemon bites, which is a more manageable and fun alternative. Even though they’re a younger group (both in age and experience), they’re not shy about standing up in front of their peers and sharing their stories. They are also lucky enough to have a ‘Maker Space’ in their school and hope to design a fun take-away for the assembly. And, of course, the group is getting shirts to they can represent their team as they boldly stand-up to stigma by educating their peers, increasing awareness of mental and substance use disorders and stigma, and challenging myths and misconceptions that perpetuate stigma.
Welcome to the club, Dorseyville! We’re already impressed with your wealth of knowledge, wit, and willingness to share what you’ve learned and experienced with your peers. We can’t wait to see your projects in action and see the changes you make in your school and communities!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
Stand Together trained it first ever all-boys schools this past December. This group may of been a little rowdy and a little wild, but they were a whole lot of fun and were clearly passionate about talking about mental health and ending stigma in their schools and communities.
Although the schools’ boys separated themselves at first, both by school and grade, and were quite quiet, they quickly broke down barriers and had a lot to say! That’s a good thing-we want our students to feel comfortable ‘speaking up and speaking out’ about mental and substance use disorders to increase awareness and decrease stigma. This group was ready and willing to share their own personal experiences, ask questions, and really dig into the topics at hand.
The activities were a wild ride! As boys tend to be-each activity became a competition, which made the day quite interesting, but exciting. The youth really enjoyed anytime there was a buzzer or ball, were pretty excited about the ‘bonus prizes,’ and were not only intense, but intimate with each other as well. As Rabbi Hoen explained to the youth, there is a passage in their scriptures about how it’s not healthy to keep in struggles and it’s important to seek the counsel of others. This directly parallels what we’re doing in Stand Together: encouraging youth to #talkaboutit (their struggles) and reach out to an adult they trust when they are worried about themselves or someone else. Rabbi Hoen’s statement really resonated with the students and motivated them even further in their work.
Armed with knowledge and quick wit, the students were ready to start project planning at their second workshop. The students broke into 4 groups: 2 for each school and 2 for each grade-level (MS/HS). The boys had so many ideas, it was hard to whittle it down to just a few projects, but they left the second day with concrete plans:
–Hillel Boys MS‘s 1:4 Color War with trivia, competition, and prizes
–Hillel Boys HS‘s: F-WHAPP Fanny Exchange Program (fanny packs-just you wait!) and Tea with Teachers
–Yeshiva Boys MS/HS: This school did something different. Although each grade-level group came up with a project, both groups will do the same projects in their respective schools. They planned to hold a Do-nut Stigmatize stand and a What’s WHAPP? video. Afterwards, the students will test their peers’ knowledge by asking them myths/facts to win a prize.
These students really came up with some amazing ideas and even more creative slogans to go with them! They’re sure to entice their peers to participate and start talking about mental health and stigma!
I was sad to leave the group after the training, but I knew I was leaving them in good hands and with solid plans moving forward. This group is committed to leaving their schools and communities better than they found them and working together to reduce stigma so that more people can get the help that they need. We can’t wait to see these projects in action! See you soon!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator
Stand Together is excited to welcome two more new schools this year. From Pittsburgh’s very own Jewish Community in Squirrel Hill: Hillel Academy and Yeshiva girls’ schools! Due to a generous grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and other supporters, we were able to expand to all five (!) schools in this community.
Both schools trained together at Hillel this past November, right before the holiday. Students filed into the training space quiet and curious, but that didn’t last very long! The students got warmed-up to the topics discussed and enjoyed competing in the trivia games that aided in review. It was a busy two days! Laughter, team-building, and deep discussion happened with ease. These young ladies ranged in age and grade levels from 7th through 12th grades. As each training day went on, they discovered fascinating things they had in common with one another, much deeper than their obvious connection with culture and religion.
Although the community is very tight knit, the students still had to get to know each other better as they attend different schools. The teams learned more about themselves, the Stand Together program, and their trainer, Montaja. As each topic of the day was discussed, students started to speak more openly about their personal thoughts about the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders. These young ladies weren’t afraid to ‘Speak up!’ and ‘Speak out!’ about how challenging it is to reach out for help even with adults they trust around them. Without hesitation, the students created a long list of things that they’d like their peers and staff to know about mental health and stigma. Some of the things they mentioned included:
-Mental illness is invisible.
-Having a mental and/or substance use disorder is not ‘wrong.’
-Therapy is okay for anyone and everyone.
By the second training workshop, both schools were ready to plan and design their projects. After viewing other schools’ ideas and discussing some challenges they may have to work around due to the size and culture of their school, both groups put together solid ideas to carry out their project and the Stand Together mission.
Hillel Academy girls’ team are working on a year-long theme that will ‘bar the stigma.’ They’re going to kick-off the year with a hot drink bar to ‘scorch the stigma…not your tongue!’ This clever project will host a table decorated with myths, facts, and other information to start the conversation about mental and substance use disorders and stigma. To incentive their peers and staff to enjoy a cozy cup of tea or cocoa during the cold winter months and start talking about mental health.
Yeshiva girls are planning on using the Stand Together acronyms as a way to start the conversation:
-W.H.A.P.P. (signs & symptoms: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care)
-S.T.I.G.M.A. (examples of stigma: stereotyping, teasing, inappropriate language, myths, and attitude)
-S.H.E. (how to help: support, hope, encourage)
Their event includes a drink stand to further educate their peers and staff, focusing on how mental and substance use disorders are invisible and effect everyone.
It’s clear to see both schools are off to a great start. They are more than excited to get the facts out to their student body. What a way to start your first year! Welcome to the club-we can’t wait to see your projects roll out!
Written by Montaja, trainer
North Allegheny Senior High School began its second year in the program-and brought their Intermediate High School with them, too! We’re excited to expand our program in the NA school district and NASH has really taken Stand Together and ran with it. We look forward to another year with this group of youth! And it all starts with the training…
Many of the students in the team returned from last year and a handful of passionate new students came together in October to learn about mental and substance use disorders, the definition and examples of stigma, and how to help their peers. Students from various groups across the school spent two days getting to know each other and work together to plan projects to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders in their school.
Some activities got intense-it was a pretty competitive group!-but the students learned a lot and had lots of fun. The team had insightful responses to the role playing prompts in the What Would You Do? exercise and were eager to share what they learned with their peers. The group had learned so much and could share the ‘Big 5’ by heart:
1) You matter.
2) You’re not alone.
3) SHE (support, hope, encouragement aka How to Help)
4) 1:4 people have a behavioral health condition
5) WHAPP!: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, personality change, and poor self-care (the signs of a mental or substance use disorder)
By the end of the day, the group was really starting to come together and already had some great ideas for projects!
The group was overflowing with ideas for this year. It was incredibly difficult to pick only a few to focus on, but the students combined some ideas, elaborated on others, and were able to form concrete planning for three big projects, including peer education in PE classes *2 days!*, a ‘truth tree,’ and permanent mural. They also want to continue using visual media and videos to share the information with their peers; this year, they’re going to focus on what to do and how to help. By incorporating physical/social activities, informational presentations, and moving visuals, NASH hopes to continue their work to decrease stigma in their school.
Students finished up the day by sharing a behavior that they were personally going to start and/or stop doing to address stigma as a result of the education and experience they received during the Stand Together training. Team members shared commitments to care more about their own mental health, speak up when someone uses stigmatizing language, and let others know that they’re there for them when they’re struggling.
Thank you, NASH, for pledging to speak up and speak out against stigma, to not use stigmatizing language, to share information, resources, and experiences, and to provide support, hope, and encouragement to others. You’re changing your school, community, and the world! Keep up the good work!
Written by Danyelle, coordinator