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A two-year Public Safety and Mental Health Millage grant of $107,000 has been awarded to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) for mental health and anti-stigma activities. In year one, WISD will use roughly half of these resources to provide mini-grants to 17 area high schools that have signed on to develop youth-led mental health campaigns.
In addition to the mini-grants, WISD is holding a series of convenings to allow participating high schools to learn from one another. At the first convening on November 6, more than four-dozen students and faculty members from these schools heard about successful campaigns and activities organized by other community organizations.
Faculty and students from Chelsea High School, for example, described their ongoing #WhyYouMattercampaign (pictured above), which was publicly launched three years ago. In the first year, English teachers had students write about their identities, art teachers worked with students to design and roll out a school-wide photography project, and hundreds of students were photographed sharing their own #WhyYouMatter messages. In the second year, the campaign included a speaker series and prayer flag display in downtown Chelsea and this year, the speaker series continued and a striking string mural was installed.
Community High School’s “Stigma Hurts, Awareness Helps” campaign (part of the University of Michigan Depression Center’s Peer to Peer Depression Awareness Campaign), the Washtenaw County Health Department’s #WishYouKnew campaign, and Friendship Circle’s UMatter program were also highlighted by the students and professionals who designed and administered them.
“I think that every one of us has struggled with depression or anxiety at some point in our life,” says Holly Heaviland, executive director of community and school partnerships at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. “This puts funding in the hands of young people so they can normalize mental health--deploying what makes sense from a youth perspective--while helping themselves and their peers develop the skills and resources that will let them cope with and manage something we all experience.”
At the second convening on January 29, participating students and teachers will receive hands-on technical assistance with their projects, says Shannon Novara, a program manager for the community and school partnerships unit at WISD. “We want to provide more opportunities for schools to network, share their campaign ideas, and receive on the spot feedback from their peers.”
Then in March, the campaigns will run across the county. Campaigns are evolving, but may include student training programs, documentary screenings, sidewalk chalk art, informational promotions, stress relief programs and kits, peer-led talking circles, pet therapy, and more.
The third and final convening will take place in April so schools can share their campaign materials and learnings.
“During the community-wide listening sessions that were held to set priorities for millage funding, we heard from students and parents that there was a serious unmet need for anti-stigma work around youth mental health, says Sarah Hierman, grants manager at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.
“I think that what’s cool is that now Washtenaw County students know that their community heard them, found the resources to address the need, and put resources in student hands, trusting that youth would know how to do it best.”
Participating Washtenaw County High Schools