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Forest Hills students use affirmations to inspire mental health awareness

Anna Warren, a family consumer science educator at Forest Hills High, kicked off an exciting initiative with her students in the Counseling and Mental Health II class. To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, they designed vibrant posters, colorful bookmarks and uplifting affirmation cards in English and Spanish to promote mental well-being throughout the school.

"It's important to highlight mental health. It has become a popular topic, especially on social media, but it can still feel lonely in the world when you are going through a mental health crisis. Having students talk about it and talking to other students and adults lets others know they are not alone and there are resources," said Warren.

Staff members also received affirmation cards, and the response from teachers was encouraging. They appreciated the design, noting that it resembled the decor in the workrooms.

One of the students participating in the project is 11th-grader Magdiel Santiago. After completing Health Sciences I and II, she enrolled in the course due to her interest in medicine. She saw this class as an opportunity to gain valuable life skills and apply her diverse abilities. Several bilingual students, including Magdiel, contributed to this campaign.

"We realized we have a lot of Spanish-speaking students who may not understand the importance of mental health. Sometimes, growing up in a Spanish-speaking household, you hear that what you are feeling will pass if you keep busy," said Magdiel. "We wanted to provide them with information they could read and understand. We placed the materials in places like the Spanish Heritage class."

The posters were hung throughout the school, while students and staff received bookmarks and affirmation cards during lunch or found them conveniently placed around common areas.

"We wanted to deliver the message in many different ways and with different designs that still all went together," said Magdiel. "The more they see it, the more the information sticks with them. We've heard from teachers that they like it and have seen students looking at the material and reading it." 

These creative materials were just the start. They also produced two videos for the school's in-house broadcast. The first video featured interviews with school counselors and the social worker, giving students essential information about available mental health resources and putting faces to the names of support staff. The second video highlighted students and teachers sharing their favorite positive affirmations.

Despite it being outside her comfort zone, 10th grader Cordelia Rushing conducted interviews for the videos. It aligned with an interaction where Cordelia suggested a peer seek help from their counselor, whom they did not know. This experience further fueled her determination to spread awareness.

From her experience, receiving guidance from the right teachers and school counselors made a significant difference in her high school experience. Cordelia hopes that the campaign will provide that for other students.  

"I was there for my friend, ready to find the help they needed. Everyone deserves support. Without the awareness, you won't know what to do or who to contact," said Cordelia. "I'm very close to my counselor, Ms. Ponder. She is always uplifting. She has helped me choose courses and teachers who benefit me. I can be sensitive, so I need patient teachers."

The project's message is clear: "It's okay not to be okay." The students want their peers to know help is available at school and in the community. This initiative not only spreads awareness but also reinforces the importance of mental health support.