Posts Tagged staff


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TJHS Poppin’ the Stigma in 2020

TJHS Poppin’ the Stigma in 2020

Thomas Jefferson High School (West Jefferson School District) got right into action ‘popping the stigma’ about mental illness and substance use disorders in their first year in the program.

As I entered the lively lunchroom, Stand Together advisors and student members were spotted hosting a table decorated with popcorn flyers and a pledge poster for their peers to sign. Since it is their first year, they decided to focus on sharing who they are as a group, as well as some of the basic information. This activity focused on the ratio of youth who are affected by mental health and/or substance use disorders (1:4). The team was ready and excited to engage with other students and staff members.

Is there a better way to ‘pop’ the stigma than with popcorn?! The Stand Together team had prepared the popcorn and filled the bags ahead of time, but they also had an active popcorn machine on site to lure students to participate with the tantalizing smell of a buttered treat. For the four lunch periods, the team rotated making announcements to their peers about the Stand Together mission and why their fellow classmates should come and get popcorn-AND learn about mental health. A generous donation of popcorn was given to TJHS by the Pittsburgh Popcorn Company. There was plenty for all the students and every teacher and staff member was gifted a bag of popcorn in their mailbox!

If they don’t come to you, go to them! We meet people where they are!

Two to three Stand Together members went around the lunchroom, coming to their peers and inviting them over to the popcorn stand; they also gave them more information about the program, the event, and mental health. While at the tables, students and staff learned that by signing the pledge, they were taking a ‘stand’ on ending the mental health stigma in their school and creating a safer and more welcoming environment.

The ST group passed out purple and green bags with a 1:4 ration sticker to seal the bag. Get this: those students and staff who got a green bag of popcorn provided a visual representation all across the room, a massive sea of one green bag to every three purple bags to show that so many people (25% in fact) are affected by mental and/or substance use disorders. I mean, come on! What a great way to set the foundation in your school, TJ!

TJHS is also very excited to roll-out an online Kahoot! game for their whole school to participate in virtually. In our current circumstances, it is very important-if not imperative-to stay connected. This team is doing just that, all while promoting mental health education and wellness practices for their school community. The group can also be followed on Instagram at @standtogethertjhs and their counseling department at @tjhscounselors. Check them out for mental health facts, inspirational messages, and wellness tips! You’ll be glad you did!

Way to go, Thomas Jefferson HS! Keep up the good work-we can’t wait to see your Kahoot!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

North Allegheny Senior High School is returning for their second year in Stand Together and what a whirlwind it has been! Their team was able to complete two of their activities before the ‘quarantine’ went into effect and have really left an impression on their school this year, excelling beyond their previous work last year.

NASH’s first project was an interactive anti-stigma fair with various stations of educational activities for their peers. Building off of last year’s peer-to-peer presentations, they went many steps further this year. In 2019, the group prepared a moving video (link) of students and staff sharing their personal experiences with mental health and substance use disorders. They then broadcast this movie to students during their gym classes and engaged the students in a true/false activity accompanied by a PowerPoint of education and review of resources.

This year, the team hit it out of the park! (Can you tell we’re missing baseball?) Instead of a small classroom of students with a video and a presentation, students created a huge event with activities for all the students to rotate through. They also produced another video (link), this year focusing on treatment and recovery. Students again shared their struggles, but also talked about how they bounced back and who-and what-helped them along the way. After the video, students went through various stations around the room to learn about stigma, challenge myths, and use physical activities as a metaphor for mental health challenges:
‘Stigma Ducks’ (a play on words) – educating students about the S.T.I.G.M.A. acronym* and challenging students to think about the consequences of stigma.
‘Be a Helping Hand Obstacle Course’ – students went through the ‘course’ blind-folded-only one person got to have a peer help them as they went through. This activity signified the importance of S.H.E.* and the support of family and friends when someone is struggling with a mental and/or substance use disorder. Students received a mini hand clapper for participating. (Get it?!)
Myth or Fact spinning wheel
1 in 4 Hoops – 1 in 4 individuals got a football instead of a basketball to show how mental and substance use disorders make it harder for the 1:4 individuals that struggle with them.
The Pledge – students read and signed the pledge on a huge poster to show their commitment to ending stigma in their school.
Whew! That’s a lot of education and awareness in one event!

The group followed that amazing event with another that covered all three of our goals: their take on a ‘truth booth.’ Students and staff alike were encouraged to visit the stand and select a color-coded tiger (their mascot) paw or paws that represented themselves to add to the ‘tree.’
Purple : I personally deal with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
Green : I am a friend or family member of someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
Blue : I support or advocate for someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
Yellow : One way that I can help someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder is to… (fill-in-the-blank)**

The impact was remarkable. Multiple students and staff shared their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders (‘I have…’ ‘I have a brother…’ ‘I am a cousin to someone that has a substance use disorder.’) Without being asked to, students disclosed some of their struggles; others wrote inspirational messages for their peers that were experiencing this issues:
-‘I will be okay.’
-‘You are strong and you are worthy.
-‘Last year was extremely rough. The recovery I had was huge…but there’s much more to improve on.’
-‘Be kind to yourself.’
-‘You’re never alone.’
-‘I have a good friend that deals with one. Much love to her.’


‘Schizophrenia does not have the right to control you.’

Anonymous

I can’t believe how eager students were to participate and how vulnerable they were willing to be with each other. Even though it was anonymous, students and staff had a visual reminder that they were not alone and that we’re all in this together. We all are affected by mental health and substance use disorders in some way and mental health is just as important as physical health. These youth are addressing myths and breaking down barriers to treatment by normalizing discussions about mental health in their school communities. After students put their paw on the tree, they were given a package of resources and treats for participating, including how students could help a peer, Resolve crisis cards, End the Stigma: NA Stand Together stickers, and a green bead necklace to remember the event.

I was so glad that I was able to attend and participate in these events. I could tell the students were having fun and engaging in the activities, but were also having intimate and sometimes intense conversations about mental and substance use disorders and the stigma associated with them. The team also plans to design a permanent mural for their school to remind them of the program, the pledge, and NASH’s commitment to ending stigma. Congrats on another job well done! Thanks for all your doing-you’re changing lives!

*S.T.I.G.M.A. – stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
*S.H.E. – support, hope, encouragement

**Click here to view a list of things you can do and say to help your peers.

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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S. Allegheny Soars Above Stigma

S. Allegheny Soars Above Stigma

South Allegheny Middle School Gladiators are back again to dismantle stigma towards mental health and substance use disorders in their school.

It’s training day! New students as well as returning members filed into the library to take part in the two-day training. Early in the morning, students were quiet and shy, but after a round of ice-breakers, introductions, and some snacks, the students started to warm-up to each other. Returning members supported their peers with the knowledge they had retained from last year in review games. They definitely finished the first workshop strong!

The ideas about changing their school environment flowed in the ‘What I want my peers and staff to know…’ section. This group of youth really wanted the adults around them to partner as allies and provide a ‘shoulder to lean on’ if they were feeling down or in need of help. Reflecting on last year, they also want their peers to take mental health and stigma seriously. Stigma is so ingrained in our culture and it can be difficult to change, but these students are going to fight it!

The South Allegheny team plans on hosting a truth booth-with a twist! They’re one of our first middle schools to ever hold this kind of event! The Truth Booth project is a great way to anonymously share what one may be struggling with or even show support for someone you know that may be affected by a mental illness or substance use disorder. Their ‘What Color Are Your Feathers?’ event will allow both students and staff to select feathers of support to motivate their peers to ‘show their true colors’ and ‘lift one another up.’ The feathers will be color-coded and each color will represent a way to stop stigma, discuss a mental health diagnosis, or write-in a supportive message. Students will drop them in a box to be collected. Once the event is complete, the team will create a beautiful mural of all the feathers to be displayed in the middle school, along with a pledge banner to end stigma.

The Stand Together team will also bring back, ‘Send Stigma Spinning.’ In this activity, participants will spin a wheel to answer a question or decipher a myth from a fact. This will give their peers an opportunity to learn more about mental health and stigma-and a chance to win a prize! Check out that awesome pic above from last year.

The ideas continued and team members identified their own personal ways they were going to take down stigma. Many students decided to challenge themselves by paying more attention to the language they use, as well as sharing the information they had learned with their family and friends. Students also shared a specific contribution they are going to make to their projects over the rest of the school year based on their skills and talents. They were two full days, but they were full of stigma-stopping power-and that’s what gladiators are made of!

Way to go, South Allegheny MS! Keep up the good work-every year it gets even better! We can’t wait to see your projects in action. You’re going to make such an impact in your school!

Written by Montaja, trainer

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Demystifying Mental Health at Montour

Demystifying Mental Health at Montour

Students at Montour HS started bright and early the last two weeks, waking up their minds and bodies, getting to know each other, and starting to plan some incredible projects to educate their peers about mental and substance use disorders, decrease stigma by promoting social inclusion and increasing awareness, and encourage students to form relationships with adults to feel comfortable reaching out if/when they need help. 7:30 AM is early-but these youth were ready to go!

Team members were all-in from the get-go, but really enjoyed the physical games. Matching the diagnosis to the definition encouraged teamwork and tested their knowledge, while Sparkle assessed their understanding of key concepts. It was evident from the first day that the students felt a large part of the stigma in their school stemmed from the myths that perpetuate our society. We form our beliefs in many different ways: from our parents, our friends, past experiences, the media-but these ideas may or may not be true. Stand Together workshops spend a lot of time talking about what stigma looks like and how it affects individuals, oftentimes preventing them from getting help; student projects are all about decreasing this stigma and one of the ways Montour participants wanted to challenge this stigma was by demystifying mental health and confronting these myths head-on.

Students spent the second workshop in small groups working on a giveaway, a ‘truth booth,’ and a staff-student activity to engage their peers and address Stand Together’s three goals. A fan-favorite is always the Food4Thought toolkit, which utilizes incentives to entice students to have a conversation about mental health and stigma. Students were excited to think about the possibility of having students spin a wheel to decide whether a statement was a myth or fact to receive a cookie, or whether they would give away pins and ‘Put a Pin in Stigma.’ Other students were passionate about spreading awareness by creating a visual and making sure teachers and staff were informed and ready to assist students that might be struggling. We left the second day with concrete plans for six projects and it’s up to the group to decide which three (or four 🙂 ) projects they want to implement this year.

All in all the group had so much fun learning about mental health and each other and getting ready to work to end stigma in their school. Each student left with a clear commitment to how they were going to use their skills and talents within their service-learning projects. We can’t wait to see your projects in action soon! (And of course we’ll have a blog for you, too!)

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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SciTech- Achieving Greatness, One Goal at a Time

SciTech- Achieving Greatness, One Goal at a Time

SciTech (Science and Technology Academy-PPS) is one of our first-year schools and are led by Dr. Edwina Kinchington and Holly Blattler-Eidinger. Coming in to SciTech, I expected to really focus on teaching the students about what mental illness, substance abuse, and stigma is, but boy was I wrong! The Stand Together group at this school was so knowledgeable and led some amazing discussions on different topics throughout the day.

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During the many activities we completed throughout the day, you could really feel the mutual respect these students had for one another, even if they had never met before.  One of my favorite topics we discussed was empathy. The students colored in a shoe to describe themselves or their lives. This was to show not to judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. The creativity of these students and how they expressed their lives was terrific.

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On the second day, we began our project planning! Before we even began I could hear some of the students discussing different ideas with each other. Instead of just addressing one of the Stand Together goals in their projects, they addressed all three, which include: ask-an-adult, education/awareness, and inclusion. I was excited most IMG_5023about the ask-an-adult piece as I find that goal the most difficult for some schools to address. After brainstorming, the students broke up into three teams to work specifically on one of the goals. When they joined back together, the ideas were shared amongst the whole group. They gave each other feedback on the different project plans and provided great insight in a positive, respectful manner.

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All in all, this was a wonderful group to work with who taught me a lot about how emotionally mature high school students can be. It was a joy working and talking with each student and their advisor, Dr. Kinchington. I am so excited to see how their projects turn out! Keep on making a difference, SciTech!

Written by Lacey, Project Trainer

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NEW Trainer: Meet Lacey Agresta!

NEW Trainer: Meet Lacey Agresta!

Hey ya’ll! My name is Lacey Agresta and I am a project trainer with Stand Together. The end goal of my job is to break down stigma and educate our youth about mental health and substance use. I achieve this by going into classrooms all around Allegheny County and facilitate workshops.

In 2014, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Florida State University. I started my career as a case manager for children and families who were involved in the court system. After that I was employed by an elementary school, focusing on absenteeism within the student body. I realized then that my passion was working with youth. When I found my current position as a Recovery Specialist, I knew my move to Pittsburgh was for a reason; to spread the word about mental illness and hopefully help one person who is facing challenges in their own life.

What makes me such an expert on this subject? Well, I have suffered with mental health disorders my entire life. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety, and ADHD in my early teens. When I’m not focusing on my recovery, I am extremely anti-social, tired, agitated, nervous, unable to focus on one task, not sleeping, and many more symptoms that caused impairment in my everyday life. These symptoms led me to abuse drugs to numb my pain, thus causing me to eventually become addicted. My recovery came slowly, but I didn’t give up on it like I had done so many times before throughout my youth. I surrounded myself with people that loved me and supported me throughout my journey. My parents helped as best as they could, but they weren’t experts on recovery and they didn’t understand the kind of support I needed; they also had mental health issues of their own. Luckily, I had other adults that were professionals in this field that stood by my side and never gave up on me, even when I would mess up. I listened to them and did what they told me to do, even if I didn’t want to. I knew that I could not do this on my own and I had to put my ego aside. Today I live a beautiful life and I never take one day for granted. If I could get through it and come out of the other side, anyone can.

I’m originally from Bradenton, Florida and just recently moved to Pittsburgh in April 2017. I currently live in Dormont with my boyfriend and our fur-babies, Armani and Biggie. Most of my time is spent outside exercising, exploring the town, or cuddling up on the couch with my pup!

Lacey 3 lacey new bio pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You were never created to live depressed, guilty, condemned, ashamed, or unworthy. You were created to be victorious.”

Lacey 1

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