PMHS welcomed John Tessitore and his team from the JCK Foundation on two Wednesdays in May to share their Legends Program in an assembly for each grade. The Legends Program is a storytelling experience that builds community around mental wellness through education and large group discussion. The assemblies were held via Google Meet while students were in classrooms, the auditorium, chorus room or at home learning virtually. Each grade participated in the three-period-long assemblies on different days, at different times.
This assembly discussed the importance of pursuing treatment and support when facing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or thoughts on suicide. The overall message was to take the time to improve the state of youth mental health. Students were also encouraged to speak with one of the school counselors to talk about what was discussed at the assembly to continue the conversation.
“In my opinion, it is always an important time to talk about mental health and wellness. We chose this time based on schedules and coordination,” said Ms. Quintano. “It is hard to engage 200+ students via Google Meet in an assembly and keep everyone engaged. My hope for the future is that we are able to have presenters here in person.”
John Tessitore, the speaker at the assembly, reached out to Principal Clark before her retirement about bringing JCK to PMHS. Ms. Quintano, a school social worker, had been in contact with Tessitore throughout this year discussing how to meet with the school in a virtual way. After watching a virtual presentation that he did at The Harvey School, the school administration decided to bring him to Pelham. In the future, the school is going to try and do events like this in the beginning of the school year rather than the end in order to start the year off with students in a good mindset. In their usual presentations, the JCK Foundation typically does their presentations in person with more intimate breakout sessions afterward.
There were adjustments made for each age group that met and participated in the assembly. For the freshmen, Tessitore focused more on community and the importance of looking out for one another. For the seniors, who will be graduating soon, Tessitore emphasized the importance of self advocacy and making sure that you know where to find a network of support in a new place.
“I thought the fact that we were able to pull off a school wide assembly during unprecedented times was a success. Aside from that, John’s message was heard; students took away different things. Some students reported that it was great to hear from someone who has a specific mental health diagnosis like OCD since often it’s professionals talking about the need to seek help,” Ms. Quintano said. “A barometer of success to me is also that we have had an uptick in self referrals and referrals to counseling staff since the assembly – more people are seeking support and that is a win!”
During the assembly a survey was administered in which the school received feedback from faculty and students as well as PMHS’s wellness committee to help determine what the next steps will be in bringing more mental health programming to PMHS.
In an anonymous survey that was emailed to students at PMHS, students were asked questions regarding their opinions surrounding the efficacy of the assembly at addressing the topic of mental health. The majority of the respondents mentioned that they felt that there was minimal discussion at school surrounding mental health and indicated a desire to expand the conversation. They expressed a desire for the school to provide more support to students, and to take students’ mental health into greater consideration when making decisions that pertain to them.
Overall, the survey received mixed responses from students, many of whom advocated for mental health to be consistently prioritized year round. Several respondents mentioned their desire for both students and teachers to be educated on warning signs that may indicate that they are struggling and what to do in that instance. The majority of them indicated that they would like for the topic of mental health to be addressed more frequently throughout the school year and for PMHS to provide more support to students amidst the stress that school entails.