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Valley Forge students raise awareness about teen mental health

Valley Forge students at Byers Field September 30, 2019

 

Valley Forge High School has started the new school year with a focus on mental health.

 

In the beginning of September, the Valley Forge Guidance Department held Teen Mental Health/Suicide Awareness assemblies in partnership with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health). September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

 

According to NAMI, one in six U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year,but only 50.6 percent receive treatment. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.

 

At the Parma Senior High vs. Valley Forge football game on September 14, players, cheerleaders and band members wore green for suicide and mental health awareness and NAMI had a table with more information.


Janine Andrzejewski, principal at Valley Forge High School, said the school is taking a more proactive approach to addressing mental health needs of all students.


“We sat down this summer as a guidance team and really wanted to make mental health a priority,” she explained. “Mental health is a huge concern, so we wanted to create an improvement plan for our guidance department. This plan includes structures and processes in place so we can address student needs on a large scale before they become individual student crises.”


To begin implementation of this plan, the guidance department staff will be working with eighth graders in their classrooms each quarter this school year, discussing important mental health topics in a large group. Topics include emotional management, positive self-esteem, goal setting, and attitudes, healthy relationships, conflict resolution, bullying and internet safety.


The guidance department has also created a parent and teacher assessment to help understand what supports are needed among students and what common problems or issues students are struggling with.


In addition, the school added a full-time home liaison, Sylvie Argirakis, to assist in attendance and help facilitate support groups for students with the guidance department.


For example, Argirakis along with VF Guidance Counselor Dawn Tabaj, have started a group after school called YouBYou, a group designed to discuss and support the LBGTQ+ community in the school. Every student is welcome and invited to this safe space.


“I think it’s really about creating a culture within the school of acceptance,” Argirakis shared. “We want all students to feel that they can approach any adult and say how they are feeling or if they need help. We are here to help and we want students to know that we will accept what they are saying at face value and help them cope with what they are dealing with.”


Counselors will be working to develop mental health curriculum for each grade level, which would include not only classroom education, but also community and parent activities. Another goal is to have consistent communication among all adults to reinforce the message.

 

“We want to have proactive information and resources because in this generation, we have noticed that students come down to our offices with immediate needs,” Kristen Tsangeos, Valley Forge Guidance Counselor expressed. “We have a lot of students who don’t have the coping skills or information, so hopefully we can have that available through our classroom counseling, or group students together who have similar needs and create a peer support group. This way they can not only work through it and problem solve on their own, but also with each other.”

 

Counselors hope these efforts will help students realize they are not alone and they can work through anything.


“Our overall focus is that we are not blind to these issues,” Valley Forge Guidance Counselor Christine Gigliotti shared. “We are working to address this and we want to provide support to every student and reach every child.”


“We just want to build trust with our kids,” Andrzejewski added. “We want them to share things with us. We want to know what’s going on.”

 

PHOTO CAPTION:  At the Sept. 14 football game versus Parma, students from Valley Forge all wore green to raise awareness for teen mental health and suicide prevention.