AHS Community Comes Together to Destigmatize Mental Health Struggles and Emphasize Self-care

On December 1, 8, and 15, the weekly Advisory period was extended to an hour so that everyone at Arlington High School could take part in activities designed to promote health, balance, and mental health wellbeing. The entire AHS community was involved and students could choose to attend workshops that helped them connect with their childhood selves, learn from outside speakers, or stretch and use their bodies.  

Each day found the young people busy making slime or friendship bracelets, playing board and card games, taking a walk or playing basketball, attending or performing in a concert, learning about healthy relationships, creating a Self-Care Calendar, watching Anime, or leading workshops for their classmates. Teachers and staff were facilitating workshops or serving as workshop buddies, supporting students to get where they needed to be, covering hallways, or assisting with the concert. One lucky School Counselor spent the time chaperoning Dolce, the therapy dog, and his human handler around the building.

These Wellness Workshops are part of an annual program started by AHS Social Worker Andrea Razi over 15 years ago. The goals of the event are to:

  • Increase awareness and decrease stigma associated with mental health struggles.
  • Practice self-care skills and promote help-seeking behaviors.
  • Take a break from the usual routine and provide time for community members to come together and take care of themselves.

The organizing work began in October as Wellness Month Coordinator and AHS paraprofessional  Annie McCauley started soliciting workshop ideas and leaders. AHS Library Teacher Stacy Kitsis served as Wellness Month Registration Coordinator, making sure that all students knew about the workshops they could choose from, remembered to register, and received their schedules.

Ms. McCauley and Ms. Kitsis were supported by the Wellness Workshops Committee consisting of AHS staff members Andrea Razi, Jess Klau, Brian Buck, Principal Matthew Janger, Deedee Cummins, and Chelsea Walsh. Computer Science teacher Dan Sheldon played a critical role in the registration process. The algorithm he created helps build a schedule that matches students with their preferences and designs the best schedule within the limitations of available space and staff.

Both Coordinators were thrilled with the reception they received from individuals throughout AHS. Teachers, paraeducators, social workers, district social emotional coaches, school counselors, administrators, and others stepped up to offer their expertise and share their passions. Instrumental Music Director Sabato D’Agostino led the Honors Orchestra and Jazz Band in concerts on each day, creating a sense of belonging as students and staff shared music together.

Various student groups that included the Ultimate Frisbee Club, the Bullet Journal Club, and the Gender and Sexuality Alliance offered programming. Many of the board and card games used in the Competitive and Cooperative Board Game workshops came from the AHS Library of Games collection, which exists thanks to a grant from the Arlington Education Foundation to promote social emotional learning and de-stressing in the library.

Student feedback analyzed as of this writing show 65% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Taking a break from my school routine to focus on self-care was a valuable use of my time.” Comments include:  “I thought it was a fun experience and was great for my mental health!”  “So restful I wish I could do it every Thursday.”