According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 1 in every 5 of American children and adolescents under the age of 18, have a mental health disorder. We also know that anxiety is the number one mental health diagnosis impacting children and adolescents. The second leading cause of death for our children and adolescents is 100% preventable, that cause of death is suicide. The high school students in the Natural Helpers program at Cattaraugus-Little Valley took initiative to raise awareness on mental health and wellness in their school. Initially, the students approached their administration with some of their ideas and were approved to plan one half of the school day to host an event. However, after the preliminary planning meeting, students approached the administration with their vision for the day and were granted an entire school day for the event. This decision sent students the message that they matter, their mental health matters and their wellness is of top priority to the CLV School District. With support from teachers, administrators and Community Schools, the students were able to obtain keynote speakers, nearly 30 experts from the community and the region to volunteer their time and host 24 various workshops for students to attend the day of the event!
Strive to Thrive took place at CLV on Monday, May 20th. All high school students attended two keynote presentations, one at the beginning of the day and another at the end. Students pre-registered for 4 of the 24 workshop sessions that were offered throughout the day.
The day began with all students gathered together to hear keynote speaker(s), Nels Ross, and his son Noah, of In Jest Entertainment. The duo focused on a critical message of resilience, intrinsic value and the potential that lies within everyone. They did so while balancing, juggling and having fun. Much of their message highlighted physical, mental and social health. In addition to the morning keynote, the duo held their own workshop, and were able to explore resilience and wellness with smaller groups of students. Within their workshop, students could use scarves, peacock feathers, beanbags and other props to learn how to juggle. Students learned that juggling helps to develop the area of their brain that is used to practice life skills such as resiliency and goal setting, as well as to complete academic tasks such as reading and writing.
Workshops included; Yoga, Apps to Cope and Heal, Archery, Hiking, Creative Expression, Therapeutic Animals, Breakout Room, Mental Health, Restorative Circles, Mindfulness, Holistic Healthy Living, Fly Fishing, Journaling, Look Good & Feel Good (haircuts/nails), LGBTQ & Inclusive Schools, Character Building, Drumming, Empathy with Technology, Mind-Body Connection, Wildlife with Will and a Fitness Activity & Inspirational Talk with a Cystic Fibrosis Warrior. The workshop presenters included teachers from within the district, university professors, social workers, trauma therapists, yoga instructors, Directions in Independent Living representatives, life coaches, wildlife experts, fitness trainers, CA BOCES staff specialists, YMCA program directors and hair stylists.
Each of the workshops contained an underlying theme of self-care, cultivating positive coping skills and the importance of the mind-body connection. As students navigated through the day, they were able to reflect upon their own strengths as well as needs. During the four alternating workshops, students reported things such as, “I learned about things I typically wouldn’t learn about,” and, “I learned that I am not alone, and other people are experiencing the same things as me.” One student said, “It was nice to have a break and think positively without anything to worry about.”
At the end of the day, students gathered together as a group for the afternoon keynote speaker, Sarah Haykel, certified life coach and founder of Salsa for the Soul. Sarah uses creative expression to promote healthy relationships, resiliency, self-esteem and community building. Haykel guided students on a pathway to their innate value, worth, creativity and talents. Her presentation utilized movement to emphasize the mind-body connection. Haykel also held hosted workshops throughout the day.
The Natural Helpers at Cattaraugus Little Valley chose to respond to the staggering statistics on child and adolescent mental illness, by raising awareness and promoting self-care. Approximately 80% of students reported that Strive to Thrive was a positive, meaningful day. We look forward to learning about the many other approaches to raising awareness and promoting wellness in schools across the region.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
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