Posts Tagged Steel Valley

SVMS: A Full Year of Photos, Basketball, & Fun

SVMS: A Full Year of Photos, Basketball, & Fun

Steel Valley Middle School is another veteran Stand Together team that continues to excel above and beyond every year. Sports are a huge part of their school culture for those involved as well as other students and the community at large. In addition to some of their tried and true activities, the SVMS ST group decided to focus their efforts to this theme in a diverse stream of activities.


IMG-9598The team started with an event right after they were trained. The students participated in a community event called Funder Under the Bridge at the Waterfront. School and community groups hosted tables and booths to spread awareness about their causes and fundraise. Over 500 people attended the event and the ST team raised $240, which they combined with other funds and donated to their local counseling agency, Steel Valley Wellness, that provides community mental health services, giving back to their community on a larger scale! How cool is that?!



Throughout the year the team had severalIMG-3691 photo booths to entice students to engage in activities and remember the events. These usually co-incided with games where students were tested on their mental health IQ and received a LifeSaver candy (because they could be a life saver!) and wristband and, if they answered correctly, they even got a full-size candy bar! Each event had a theme, including: ‘Don’t be a Grinch-1:4 people have a mental illness’ for the winter holidays, ‘Share the Love’ for Valentine’s Day, and one a basketball background for their March Madness tournament.


The team also held a door-decorating contest coinciding with the photo booth for Valentine’s Day. Each homeroom decorated their door focusing on a specific mental illness or concept. The class with the winning door won a donut party. Over 13 classrooms participated and some of the decorations are still displayed today.

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The major theme for the year, however, utilized basketball to engage the students in a myriad of ways. In November, the team had a booth outside a boys’ basketball game.FB_IMG_1554495793644 The team wore green sweatbands and the cheerleaders wore green bows to signify their solidarity in support of mental health awareness. They also attended a girls’ basketball game and hosted their table again with the players wearing the green wristbands. Even the other school’s team participated! The focus of these activities was to hype the students up for the Breaking Barriers March Madness trivia competition. In their homerooms, students were asked to answer questions about mental and substance use disorders and then shoot a basketball into a mini-hoop to earn points for their homeroom. Like a tournament, homeroom ‘teams’ were eliminated one by one until the final event!



The highlight of the year was the Final Game (in March, of course!). The top 6th grade team battled the top 8th grade team-even the teachers joined in! Six teachers, the principal, their advisor, and her father all shared the court with the student participants-this time, playing with a real-size hoop. The winning 6th graders earned a pizza party and the 8th graders were given a donut party for their efforts. The students also had the opportunity to ‘dress-down’ for the occasion; students donated a dollar to wear their favorite team gear, which went to supporting the ST team’s donation to SV Wellness.


FB_IMG_1554495801700By using the basketball theme and having multiple projects over the course of the year, students were actively engaged, excited about the events, and were highly impacted. The team continuously used the same 25 questions over the course of the year and the students were able to have a better understanding about what mental illnesses are, the effects of substance use disorders and stigma, and the idea that they are not alone in their struggles. The team was even mentioned several times in the local newspaper, The Valley Mirror! Their advisor, Ms. Dunmire, couldn’t be more proud:


‘We’ve come a long way. I’m so proud of my students and I’m confident that we’ve made positive changes in our school surrounding breaking down barriers surrounding mental illness and substance abuse.’

SVMS 2019-r


Another amazing year, SVMS! Be sure to follow them on Instagram @SVStandTogether



Written by Danyelle, Coordinator

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It’s Time to Recognize! ST Teams 2019

It’s Time to Recognize! ST Teams 2019

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!


featureA 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 uniqueOC table-r 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:


WMHS presenters

WMHS presenters

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

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.



Special thanks to our school teams:


ST TY poster-r



Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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SVMS Ironmen Interrupting Stigma

SVMS Ironmen Interrupting Stigma

Another veteran school, Steel Valley Middle School, has been with us quite some time and their projects never disappoint. From the beginning, they’ve been a Tier-3 school (the highest level we offer)-and the have some of our youngest members; Ryan’s group spans from 5th through 8th grade! Their maturity surpasses all expectations and they’ve always been a great group to work with; I’ve been lucky enough to work with them all three years I’ve been with Stand Together!



Students started off their day going over some of the most popular myths and separating them from the facts in pairs. One of Stand Together’s goals is education and oftentimes, stigma is perpetuated by the inaccurate beliefs people have surrounding IMG_20181003_103811mental and substance use disorders. We discuss these with the students so that they can, in turn, address some of these myths and stigmas with their peers. In addition, we spend some time teaching students about the five most common signs of a mental health concern: withdrawal, hopelessness, agitation, poor self-care, and personality change. To help them remember this, we have the students repeat the five signs to a partner and give each other a high-five. Did you know that physical activity increases brain activity and your member? We do…and we use it to our advantage! Besides that, it keeps things fun; Stand Together isn’t just about learning and  sharing, but creating connections and enjoying the activities while doing so!


The students spend the second day designing their projects for this year. The hardest part of the day is not necessarily coming up with ideas for the projects, but voting for the ones that they want to pursue this year. They had so many great ideas, but we finally whittled it down to a do-able amount.











For the first time, SVMS has gone with a sort of theme to connect their projects. Many of the members of the group are involved in basketball or cheerleading and to increase awareness, students are going to be working with these teams, as well as the art and technology departments IMG_20181009_110819to market their events. The women and men’s basketball teams will be wearing green socks and the cheerleaders will be wearing green bows to symbolize the importance of mental health. (Mental health is also closely connected with physical health, so this is a win-win!) In addition, the Stand Together team will be making announcements and have a booth at the event with their spinning wheel and other activities to engage their peers and the community. They will be having mini-basketball tournaments in homerooms to encourage social inclusion. In addition, the students will have a door decorating contest in February and, to wrap-up the year and the basketball theme, the winner of the student homeroom tournaments will play staff to promote relationships with staff and encourage students to reach out to reach out to an adult they trust when they are worried about themself or someone else. (Tier-3 schools have to incorporate all three of our goals-they certainly are!) The capstone of the day was when the students received their Stand Together wristbands-it’s official!!!




The Steel Valley team has already had an opportunity to share their projects with the community. Last month, they participated in the Funder Down Under event at the Waterfront. This is an event for the community to come together and learn about the great things students and other organizations are doing. The Stand Together team printed out graphics we use with the youth during the training. They also gave away wristbands to help remember what they learned that day and ‘Lifesavers’ candies to remind others that they could be the difference in someone’s life. The students brought their spinning wheel game and frame for ‘selfies with a stranger.’ What a way to start off the year!



Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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Steel Valley Ironmen Building Bridges to End Stigma (MS)

Steel Valley Ironmen Building Bridges to End Stigma (MS)

If you’re from anywhere around Pittsburgh and/or familiar with the NFL, you’re familiar with Pittsburgh’s history, coining the name, The Steel City. Steel Valley MS’s Ironmen have been using their knowledge and training for the past three years to combat stigma in their schools by building bridges between students, promoting social inclusion, awareness, and encouraging students to reach out to an adult when they’re worried about their own or someone else’s mental health. (If you didn’t know, bridges are typically made out of steel or iron ‘I-beams,’ hence the pun. I crack myself up 🙂

20171011_095309Anyways…A lot of the students had returned from the program before, but after the summary, we had a lot of review to do! Students participated fully in all the activities and were quick to re-learn the myths and facts surround mental health, substance use disorders, and stigma. Students always love BINGO (as do adults!) and experienced a glimpse of what anxiety feels like when students were asked to demonstrate who 20171011_101238could hold their breath the longest and analyze the difficult feelings and sensations they experienced when they were running out of breath. Stand Together participants engage in activities that teach the students empathy; even though these exercises aren’t close to experiencing a disorder, they help the students understand what someone might be going through a little better.

Students also learn the difference between intellectual disabilities and mental health conditions. These are easily confused, but we teach the students to remember that intellectual=intelligence (or IQ)-while pointing to their eyes and brains, since physical activity helps memory. In addition, the students learn that individuals with mental health conditions have varying levels of intelligence just like the general population, re-instilling the idea that individuals with these disorders are just like everyone else and are people-first, who just happen to have a disorder like any physical condition.


Students heard Danyelle’s story of recovery and many students related to her struggles and experience. This is always a very powerful and important part of the Stand Together workshop. After this activity we follow with another impactful 20171011_120456activity, Cross the Line, in which students confront stereotypes they may have and learn that they have more in common than they could ever imagine. That is what ends stigma: knowing that ‘we all bleed the same‘ and we’re all in this together. A person is a person, no matter what they might be dealing with and we are all experiencing some of the same struggles; you are never alone.

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Project planning is always my favorite part of the whole experience and the students came up with tons of great ideas, including a movie night, a mental health fair, and a bake sale, and a sporting event. Students research budgets, resources, and outreach prospects to finish the planning process. We had so much fun and I can’t wait to see their projects in action in the spring. Shout-out to Ms. Dunmire and the students for all their hard work! Kudos!




(Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator & Trainer)

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Recognition Event 2017

Recognition Event 2017

Words cannot express what an amazing experience we had on Wednesday, May 10 celebrating our Stand Together schools’ accomplishments this past year. Over 150 students and 100 supporters attended this years’ event at the Heinz History Center. All eight of our project completing schools were able to attend in some fashion and some even brought guests, give-a-ways, and goodies to share.

Arsenal giveaways WMHS giveaways

The chairs were full and the plaques were ready to be given out! After a brief introduction, the program began!

crowd plaques

Our featured speaker, Dese’Rae Stage, shared her moving recovery story and the students found hope and inspiration in her words. Many students could relate to her on a personal level and all the participants enjoyed viewing her work, Live Through This, and learning about other suicide survivors stories.

Dese speaks Dese and WMMS students

All of our schools did a fantastic job presenting their projects and demonstrating their mental health expertise and changes in school culture.

Here’s what each school came up with:

Propel: Braddock Hills High School’s projects were a HUGE hit. Their creativity and innovation always inspire other groups to take risks with their projects and think outside the box. This year, the students manufactured a ‘Thought Bubble’ that they used to invite their peers to stop stigma and increase social inclusion by sharing things that they struggled with, things that helped them cope with life’s stress, and things that inspired them. Students also created a life-size board game similar to Chutes & Ladders, in which participants scaled ladders when they supported a friend or talked about mental health, but moved down the slides when they used stigmatizing language or ignore’s signs/symptoms in a peer. The students wrapped-up their project with their annual Blackout Stigma day, in which students are allowed to dress-down in black clothes, participated in a moving wristband sharing activity, and took pictures at a photo-booth with an anti-stigma backdrop created by all the students at the school.

Propel gameboard Propel bubble

Propel was followed by Steel Valley Middle School. These students worked together with their HS counter-parts to unite their schools for a common-cause in their Breaking Barriers Dash. Students also facilitated a Glow-in-the-Dark dodgeball tournament for almost 200 students. Each team had to learn about, spread awareness, and represent their assigned mental health condition. The winners received gift cards. Students also conducted a Kindness Kafe at which they gave away free hot chocolate and ‘Breaking Down Barriers’ bracelets to discuss mental health and increase social inclusion. Students also had a #standtogether selfie station to remind their peers of the activities.

SVMS and MikkiSVMS presentation

Next, students in Arsenal Middle School shared their ‘Cool-Aid Stand’ project, explaining the importance of reaching out to their peers, meeting them where they are, and giving away something for free. As a Community School, Arsenal strives to involve parents and other community members as well. Check out their project!

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Carlynton spoke of their ‘dirt’ and ‘sand’ bake sale in which they reminded peers that “Stigma is dirty!” and that they should “S(t)and Together.” The snacks had flags that discussed the myths and facts surrounding mental health conditions and sold out quickly! Carlynton is also going to be facilitating a 1:4 week soon.

Carlynton award Carlynton presentation

The Environmental Charter School returned to Stand Together after a one-year hiatus and it was great to see them engaging their peers again! ECS handed out hot chocolate and lemonade as well as wristbands to the students to educate them about mental health and substance use disorders. For every 3 green wristbands, there was 1 purple wristband that read “1 in 4 students have a mental illness” to visually represent the prevalence of behavioral health conditions. The students also had information readily available for students that wanted to learn more about common disorders or compare the myths and facts.

ECS table ECS award

Following ECS, West Mifflin MS shared their tier-3 projects, including a movie night featuring Inside Out and a Color Run, which was open for the whole community. Students also performed skits to talk about mental health and stigma before and during these events. One of the highlights of the day was the students interacting with guests, offering hugs-and giving them, along with passing out a pin with a motivational phrase written on it. There was definitely a lot of love going around the room!

WMMS group pic WMMS hug

Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their “Love is louder than any mental illness” campaign. Students decorated lockers with mental health facts and positive messages. They also held a door-decorating contest between homerooms that focused on educating each other about mental health disorders. The students largest event was a mental health fair. Students visited tables and activities set-up around the gym during their lunch periods to learn more about mental health conditions and stigma, participate in social inclusion activities, and de-stress through dancing, Twister, and coloring books. Steel Valley’s innovative theme made a huge impact in their school environment and many faculty members, as well.

SVHS table SVHS presentation

West Mifflin HS wrapped up the program describing their full year of events aimed at ending the stigma attached with mental health disorders. Early in the year, students held a balloon release for students to ‘let go’ of struggles and ‘soar;’ regardless of what was going on, students came together in a moving ceremony to ‘stand together’ in hope. Other projects included educating the preschool students, hosting a bake sale, holding a throwback dance, and presenting a school assembly. Another big event included their mental health fair. Much like SVHS, students learned about mental health, participated in social inclusion and coping skill activities, and played games that not only engaged students and rewarded them with prizes, but provided them with reminders of the things they learned that day. (Did you see some of the prizes above that they also handed out at the event?!)

WMHS award WMHS table


It was an absolutely fantastic event and everyone had a great time. Students and other attendees left inspired to address stigma in their schools and communities and continue in their plight to increase awareness, increase social inclusion, and encourage reaching out to an adult. Thank you all for everything you do for Stand Together! See you next year!

Student smiles


If you’re interested about learning more about Stand Together or bringing to to YOUR SCHOOL, please contact Danyelle Hooks at (412)350-3455 or

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Kissing Stigma Goodbye: Steel Valley HS Stands Together

Kissing Stigma Goodbye: Steel Valley HS Stands Together

Steel Valley HS capitalized on Valentine’s Day with their Love is LOUDER than Mental Illness series of events this February. In addition to DSCN0280participating in the Breaking the Barriers dash with the middle school, the high school students held several activities during this past month for their peers. From Hershey kisses telling students to ‘Kiss stigma goodbye’ to Huggies when students shared a hug with a peer, SVHS spread the love in their school to increase awareness of mental illness, increase social inclusion, and talk about getting help when having a mental health need.

decorating lockers example friends

Stand Together took to the hallways of Steel Valley High School to spread the love and break the stigma surrounding mental illness! Students posted inspirational quotes to motivate and encourage students in their daily struggles, as well as anyone that might be silently suffering from a mental health concern. In addition, students posted information on the prevalence of mental illness, what stigma is, and flyers urging students to sign the anti-stigma pledge on our site. Over 240 students committed to stop stigma, challenge their preconceived notions, and advocate for mental health in their school and communities.

Students also held a door-decorating contest. Participating students and teachers covered their doors with facts regarding various mental health conditions and other decorations to get students attention and learn about a specific disorder. The winning classroom received gift cards for their efforts.

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Their projects concluded with a Mental Illness fair during all lunches on Friday, February 25. This tremendous event took over the entire school gym.DSCN0282  Upon entering, students were given a green ribbon sticker for the day and a Stand Together wristband to remind them of the event and message. Tables were set-up around the room with various activities. 10 tables were set-up highlighting facts and sharing information on various mental illnesses, including autism, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, depression, and OCD. Music and games were played and the students and staff really united together against stigDSCN0317ma.

One impressive highlight was a mural the students had created to emphasize the concept that no one is alone. Students answered questions anonymously with sticky notes to create a visual representation of the impact we have on each other. Additionally, some students stepped up and spoke with their peers about their first-hand experiences with mental illness. It was a great success!

Check out these videos from the event to hear what students and staff had to say about the fair!


Thanks to Mrs. Kamnikar and the Stand Together team for all their hard work!

group pic

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Under Construction: Breaking Down Barriers at SVMS

Under Construction: Breaking Down Barriers at SVMS

Steel Valley Middle School was HARD AT WORK standing up against stigma and promoting unity, togetherness, and inclusion the past few months with their Stand Together Projects. Their theme this year was Under Construction: Breaking Down Barriers. The students facilitated activities that hoped to increase education and awareness of mental illness and stigma, but also work together to engage all students in various activities. In addition, students cross-participated in events with the high school group to gain cohesiveness as a community.

2.21.17 SVMS barriers quote

collage picIn December, 38 students competed against other ST members in both the middle and high schools in a School SWAP. During this event, the middle school students were paired with high school students and completed various challenges with participation from the rest of the student body throughout the day. MS students tagged along with HS students in the morning, and then vice versa in the afternoon. Along the way, the ‘challenges’ had to be signed-off on by a teacher, staff member, or counselor. ‘Challenges’ included talking about Stand Together, sitting with someone they didn’t know at lunch, posting anti-stigma messages on their social media accounts, and requesting information about resources from the school guidance counselor.

Over the past several months, students also created QR codes and quizlets with interesting information and facts on the different types of mental illnesses and placed them on STAHL newsletters that were posted in the bathrooms every month. Announcements were made and flyers were also plastered all over the school for their cause.decorating shirts

The students’ main project was planning and orchestrating a Glow in the Dark dodge ball tournament for the entire student body on Thursday, February 16. 130 students formed teamed of mixed grade levels and decorated t-shirts with their team’s mental health condition, definition/characteristics/statistics, and places to get help. Teams also created posters with additional information for the event. The winning team members received gift cards. Free hot chocolate was served at their Kindness Kafe and wrist bands were given out to participants reminding them of the “Breaking Down Barriers” message Stand Together wants to instill within the school.  “It was a great time,” said Katie Iwaniuk- 8th grade Stand Together member. “Everyone had fun and we were able to spread our message while raising awareness.” Four members of the high school Stand Together team even volunteered to referee the event!

shirts swag & cafe

Next, Stand Together will be creating a “Breaking Down Barriers” mural in the middle school with the help of the Art department.  Sixty canvases will decorate a stairwell with our message of acceptance & community. Can’t wait to see them!

posters & crew

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Steel Valley: Standing Together…Together!

Steel Valley: Standing Together…Together!

On October 26 and November 2, Stand Together programs from Steel Valley Middle and High Schools joined together for their training. We had a HUGE working space, passionate youth, and great ideas abound. Students ranged from 5th to 12th grade, spanning our greatest age difference yet!


This group really enjoyed Ships & Sailors, a movement activity used to emphasize concepts of social distance and exclusion. During this activity, students must created groups of certain numbers while performing specific actions. If they cannot find a group with the appropriate amount of participants or complete the wrong movement, they are eliminated. The game grows more intense as students must leave alliances to survive in the game. It can get pretty rowdy and sometimes physical, but it is important for the students to realize the impact of their choices, even when their actions may be accidental, and the debilitating impact exclusion and isolation can have, especially in regards to stigma and mental illness.

What’s unique about this group is that although the Middle and High schools complete separate projects, they frequently work together, offering 20161102_090637support and encouragement, constructive criticism, and active participation in all activities. Sometimes the groups replicate each others events to increase the impact of their efforts at the different age groups. Students find it helpful for older participants to mentor younger individuals and for the high school to be aware of changes and thought processes of the middle school. Our ‘ground rules’ for the trainings focus on these efforts as well, encouraging students to follow the PROCESS: participation, respect, open-mindedness, confidentiality, experience, sensitivity, and Speak up! Speak out! We emphasize the beauty in our differences, but focus on our similarities that bring us together and make us human. We must work TOGETHER to STAND up against stigma and TALK ABOUT mental illness.

 By the end of the trainings, students were prepared to facilitate Stop the Stigma! weeks at both their schools.

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Mrs. Dunmire-Kuftic’s Middle Schoolers                 Mrs. Kamnikar’s High Schoolers

Join Steel Valley Middle and High Schools as they Stand Together…Together!


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