As a student, it's hard to be successful if you're not OK mentally, says Jennifer Mattes, associate principal of student services at Archbishop Hoban High School.
Most studies say around 20% or more of teens face mental illnesses and around 20% have seriously considered suicide. That’s why over the last couple of years, Archbishop Hoban has ramped up its mental wellness efforts with an in-house counselor, training for teachers, small student groups and a Wellness Wednesdays program.
Together, the school hopes these services can offer layers of support so each student can access help in their own way.
Every student at the co-ed school in Akron fills out a needs assessment, and one question the survey asks is to identify a “go-to person” in the school — a teacher, coach, administrator or anyone else to whom they feel comfortable talking. A byproduct of the assessment was a grief support group for several students who expressed needing help after experiencing loss. The school even partnered with Red Oak Behavioral Health to bring a full-time mental health counselor into the building.
“Receiving counseling in our building allows students that opportunity during the school day because they have homework, sports and jobs, so there are obstacles with parents arranging appointments,” Mattes says.
Faculty and staff are also trained by Life Act, an organization that offers free mental health programming such as QPR, a “mental health CPR” course that encourages teachers to “Question, Persuade and Refer.”
“We’re educating our teachers to have hard conversations with kids to make sure they are OK, and if they are not OK, getting them to a resource that can help,” Mattes says.
In a program called Roundtable, students in small groups participate in regular check-ins.
“We have them rate themselves 1 to 5, and I might ask them to find an emoji or meme that speaks to the way they are feeling,” she relates. “So much of this is about building a positive relationship with kids. When they feel like there’s someone in their corner, if issues come up, they are more likely to reach out for help.”
This year, the school will institute Wellness Wednesdays with activities that keep mental health in the forefront.
“We’re trying to remove any barriers for kids to get them the resources they need,” Mattes says.
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