“It’s a springboard to life” – Capital Gazette
At Broadneck High School, a mural is being painted in a school bathroom featuring a silhouette, flowers and a statement, “You spend most of your time in your mind, make sure it’s a beautiful place where to be.”
The painting began last year as part of a community project for the Student Alliance for School Flourishment, a new initiative at Anne Arundel County Public Schools funded by the Schools Relief Fund. emergency for elementary and secondary schools. Now in five high schools and three Anne Arundel middle schools, the alliance uses a scale with six determinants of well-being or fulfillment: happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relations and financial and material stability.
The program operates at Broadneck, Crofton, Southern, Northeast and Annapolis High Schools and Magothy River, Northeast and Southern Middle Schools. Last year there were about 42 participants.
Through activities such as journaling, meditation, mindfulness exercises and community projects, alliance students and teachers can tap into their personal “fulfillment,” said Tara Segree, Broadneck teacher and godmother. of the alliance last year. Students and teachers are encouraged to check their own level of fulfillment and, where they can, to work with others, the community and eventually the world to enhance the flourishing of society.
Once students know how to rebuild themselves after a tough day, perhaps through art or music, they can share that confidence to meet life’s challenges with others, Segree said. “Whether academically, socially or philanthropically, it is just a foundation. It is a springboard to living life, flourishing, instead of languishing.
Director of Student Services and Support Ryan Voegtlin said the school system launched the program in 2020 and expanded it this school year, adding four more schools, and is discussing further expansion. Two contracts have been awarded related to the program under the FY2023 budget; $41,000 for Notre Dame University in Maryland and $49,000 for Saint Louis University.
At Broadneck, the initiative has grown from four student members in the 2020-21 school year to eight in 2021-22.
Segree said an important aspect is getting students to understand that they are not struggling alone.
“We’re always going to have struggles and challenges, but it’s how you respond to your challenges that gives you the life you live,” she said.
Segree was the alliance advisor at Broadneck for the past two years, but is stepping back this year to serve as the class of 2023 advisor. Coach and teacher DJ Hunt has taken over and plans to recruit members of the alliance this month. This year he said he plans to have an all-male group, to provide a safe space for the boys to come in and “not be okay if they’re not well”.
“A lot of times society tells us as men that we have to be strong and we have to keep it all inside and we have to not be able to show emotions and express our concern,” said Hunter. “I want my room and my band to do the opposite.”
Voegtlin said students already had mental health issues before the COVID-19 pandemic, leading the system to create a mental health task force. A report released by the task force in October 2020 found that factors such as family substance use, stress and pressure, social media, poverty, trauma, lack of access to mental health resources , discrimination, stigma, and cultural barriers were all affecting student mental health before the pandemic. And the pandemic has only made things worse.
“It created more loss, more trauma,” Voegtlin said. “Those children who were struggling before continue to struggle even more.”
The system completed 506 student suicide risk assessments between Aug. 29 and Oct. 14, Voegtlin said. In 2021, during the same period, the system carried out 368 assessments; in 2019 he completed 460 and in 2018 he completed 467.
“We were in crisis mode last year,” Voegtlin said. “This year, we are less in crisis mode, more in recovery mode.”
The new Student Alliance for Flourishing is one of many supports for students recovering mentally from the disruptions caused by COVID, along with more counselors in schools and expanded school-based mental health care, in which professionals come at school to meet and treat students so they don’t need to travel for appointments.
Notre Dame University in Maryland works with teachers, counselors and students to develop and manage the program, last year in conjunction with Saint Louis University. In addition to the Student Alliance for Fulfillment, Notre Dame runs the Teachers’ Alliance for Fulfillment. Assistant special education teacher Kristine Larson said she wants “fulfillment” and associated standards to be embedded in the common vernacular, so that the needs of students and teachers can be holistically addressed.
Molly Dunn, an assistant professor at Notre Dame’s School of Education, said one of the aims of the program was to engage teachers with the concept of flourishing from the start, to ensure they can identify what they need to thrive and avoid burnout.
“To give them the tools to feel empowered to thrive in a stressful profession, made even more stressful by a pandemic,” Dunn said.