In the age of cyberbullying, with teen suicide rates on the rise, it’s more important than ever to choose the best high school to meet a teen’s needs. Parents are increasingly looking for schools that demonstrate an awareness of mental health issues and offer tools to help students cope with any challenges that may arise.
As schools beef up their counseling resources and investigate anti-bullying programs, Archbishop McNicholas High School is leading the way by providing resources for staff, students, and families. As a part of the school’s comprehensive approach to supporting the broader McNicholas community, it’s developed two new programs, the Hope Squad and a partnership with MindPeace, to address different aspects of this pervasive need.
The Hope Squad was developed to engage and train the school population to help identify at-risk peers. “Students were coming to teachers and counselors over the last two years requesting more mental health support and ways to be more aware. The students were craving a program where they could be involved in the process. They wanted more resources to talk more openly,” says school counselor Alaina Way. As one of three counselors at McNicholas, and in her fourth school year, Way reports a growing need due to an “increase in anxiety, stress, and depression.”
In response to the students’ request, McNicholas’ administrative team mobilized the Hope Squad. A group of peer-selected students is trained on the potential signs of mental distress or crisis, what constitutes an “at risk” situation, and what to do when they observe a peer struggling. In addition to the peer-driven program, McNicholas has partnered with MindPeace to add a full time mental health professional to their in-house roster of support. This licensed clinician will help provide a student relief at the time of need, versus having to refer them out to another counselor or service. This professional will be a resource to the McNicholas community.
But it’s not all serious all the time. McNicholas is also reimagining how they structure the school day, and offering more opportunities for the students to catch their breath or come up for air. “Explore” periods give students the ability to do just that, explore. Every other week students can dig into new subjects and activities from yoga and dancing to service learning projects, drone racing, or chess. It’s an opportunity to experience joy during the school day—and maybe even ignite a new passion.
“The goal is to let [McNicholas] students know that they matter,” says Way. With 500 students to help support and grow during a critical time of their lives, McNicholas isn’t brushing this topic under the rug. In fact, they’ve even surveyed the students to determine needs and inform their programming this year.
With all of the transparency around the topic of mental health within the McNicholas community, Way says there isn’t a real stigma there. “Students are open and want to share what they’ve been going through.” With therapy dogs available to help soothe emotions and other uplifting activities, it’s no wonder why Way says “every year I’m here, I see the [mental health] stigma improve.”