SHS takes a stride for mental health in school-wide assembly

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SHS’s counseling office.

Audrey Lai, Editor in Chief

On Sept. 22, all Solon High School (SHS) students participated in a mental health assembly during second and third period. The assembly featured three local mental health professionals as speakers and focused on shining a light on the commonality of mental health struggles, discussing coping strategies and answering questions from SHS students.

Student assistant facilitator Jodi Lurie explained the catalyst behind setting up the assembly.

“We’ve received a lot of feedback on how students really want more mental health education and resources,” Lurie said. “It’s something we always do in the sense of health class and all of that, but we really wanted to bring it to the whole student body and especially with COVID and the pandemic and everything going on.”

Over the summer, Lurie contacted the three speakers to arrange the assembly. Solon Middle School’s partnership with Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) allowed Lurie to contact a coordinator. The coordinator recommended Jessica Vendetti, a SAY counselor working at Orange High School, who talked about finding balance in life and coping skills students can utilize.

Lurie had previously worked with Jeff Lox, the Executive Director of Bellefaire, a children’s residential treatment center in Cleveland. Lox spoke about coping mechanisms and discussed further help for more serious cases of mental illness.

Lurie also wanted to invite a speaker who SHS students could more strongly relate to. Alexis Cuyler, a 2014 SHS graduate and a counselor at a national youth advocacy program, shared her own story of her struggle with depression and suicide.

SHS student Suder Natesan voiced her opinion on the assembly.

“I think it’s a great start to accepting mental health in school and I hope other schools will follow suit,” Natesan said. “I hope schools will teach their kids about mental health earlier.”

Another SHS student, Nina Bao, had a different point of view.

“It [kept] on repeating the same information, and I felt like there were more solutions that should have been told,” Bao said.

The assembly is only one step in an effort to assist SHS students with their mental health. Following last school year’s Wellness Friday program, multiple new programs and resources are being introduced this year to continue to promote an accepting and open environment surrounding mental health.

One of these programs is the mindful minute, during which teachers and students do a mindfulness exercise at the beginning of each class.

“The analogy I would use is the full cup,” Lurie said. “If our cup keeps getting too full and we don’t take a minute to empty it, let some of it out, reset, so to speak, it’s really hard to focus and do other things so by demonstrating and practicing a mindful minute, it allows us to better focus, to better problem solve, it enhances a lot of our assets.”

Lurie also discussed SOS (Signs Of Suicide), a program Lurie plans to bring to FMP (Freshman Mentoring Program).

“The basis of it is ACT, which is acknowledge, care and tell, and that’s something we’re starting to communicate as well,” Lurie said. “It’s a data driven and research based program. We are working currently with our mentors of FMP to start to bring that down in an ongoing way.”

In addition to the staff, school counselors and school psychologists, another resource SHS students can currently utilize is the mindfulness room. Valerie Smith, one of SHS’s school psychologists, talked about the purpose of the room and when students can use it.

“Our administrators came up with an idea to use [the room in the school counseling office] for mindfulness and quiet,” Smith said. “Not just for mindfulness, but for students who want to have time to get away from the lunch periods or their study halls if they’re during the lunch periods to take a break, to have some quiet time, to use that space for whatever they choose to. It’s not for socialization, it’s more for just to have time to yourself. So that was just the focus of it, and we do have students who aren’t comfortable in the cafeteria, who prefer to be alone in a quiet space like that so it meets both of those goals.”

Lurie explained the role of staff who are present in the mindfulness room.

“There’s staff in the mindfulness room during lunches,” Lurie said. “In the school counseling office, it’s really when we’re working with a student and they need a couple extra minutes or they need some time before they meet with us. When it’s more of a one on one location versus the lunch mindful rooms where there is a staff, and they can just come in and sit, and there’s nothing they need to share if they don’t want.”

Outside of school, students can access the school counseling website for emergency hotlines and resources as well as the Comet Calming Center for mindfulness websites and videos.

Smith explained what guidance she would offer an SHS student struggling with their mental health.

“If they’re struggling, say, it’s something like stress or anxiety,” Smith said. “We would want them to access maybe the Comet Calming Center, to look up some resources to use because most of the students are pretty familiar with mindfulness and to try some strategies and look up some coping mechanisms and skills and try some normal things that we suggest. And then if it continues to affect them, then we would let them know to reach out to their parents, their teachers, a staff member to maybe talk through some of that if there are additional concerns.”

Smith added that struggling with mental health is normal and encourages SHS students to utilize the resources provided to them.

“We also want them to know it’s not unusual to struggle with some of these things being a high school student, that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with them, that this is typical for high school students to have to deal with it,” Smith said. “It’d become a problem if it would continue, or if it was affecting their day to day activities, but we wanted to make sure that they had some coping tools and some strategies and stuff like that.”

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