Student-Led Initiative Creates a Week-Long Way to Help Others
Rebekah Grande, a sophomore at Amherst Central High School, knew there were plenty of support systems in place this year, but she wanted to create something additional for her fellow students. Her idea was to develop resources for her peers that would help them cope and let them know there were fellow students available and willing to listen.
She was given the green light by school administrators and counselors and started recruiting committee members through social media and word of mouth. Nine girls answered her call and within three weeks they had planned a Mental Health Awareness Week (March 22-26) of fun activities, daily motivational emails to all students, online health and meditation resources, outdoor yoga, coffee chats, a fundraiser for Crisis Services and more.
“It was important especially now to see how students are struggling,” said Rebekah, adding that she wanted her classmates to know that this was something that was student-led and initiated. “It was important for us to let them know that the school is there for them, we are listening.”
Joining her on the committee is Gabrielle Lewis, Hannah Gabelnick, Julianna Gentile, Katherine Anson-Oja, Makayla Mills, Meredith Ernst, Samantha Jay, Sara Koteras and Sarah Murphy. Pictured are Sarah M., Hannah, Rebekah, Samantha, Makayla and Meredith.
Hannah Gabelnick heard about the project through a mutual friend and decided she had to be part of it. She had a list of health and meditation resources to help build a Google site that was shared with students during the week.
The goal of the week was to make it clear to students who attended school and those working remotely from home that there are people willing to help, to listen and to create a level of acceptance toward mental health issues. Each day the homeroom was extended to have discussions among students. Daily emails shared motivational quotes of the day and online Kahoot trivia games promoted discussion between the remote and in-person students.
A popular activity was the Zoom coffee talk, an hour of discussion led by four of the girls, where students talked about mental health with some sharing their experiences. Since the committee was all female, they wanted to be sure that the males in the building felt included. They knew they were successful when one-third of the chat participants were males. They hope to continue the monthly zoom calls for various grades and clubs.
Samantha Jay heard about the project through involvement with a club. Her interest was piqued because there was nothing like this. “It was about making people smile throughout the week,” said Samantha, “Keeping it light is one of the big goals just to show that you are not the only one going through this and don’t need to make it a big deal.”
Sarah Murphy, who admits she loves music, was put in charge of the daily playlist.
They incorporated a cookie sale fundraiser with all proceeds going to Crisis Services and were able to present $200 to the agency on April 28.
“It’s amazing to see a small idea grow into this gigantic thing,” Rebekah concluded.