Dozens of students came together Wednesday morning at the corner of W. Christoffersen Pkwy. and N. Kilroy Road in front of Pitman High School holding signs of varying sizes. It wasn’t a protest of any sort, but a celebration of positivity.
The signs displayed compliments and welcoming messages to commuters driving through the busy intersection in hopes of putting smiles on faces of those ready to take on a busy day. The idea of starting the day with positivity stems from Turlock Unified School District’s “Start With Hello” campaign.
Start with Hello aims to teach students to be more socially inclusive and connected to each other to prevent social isolation. Every year, TUSD hosts Start with Hello Week full of fun, interactive activities in partnership with the national Sandy Hook Promise nonprofit. They are just one local school district that has tried increasing awareness of mental health amongst teens and young adults. This year’s Start with Hello Week coincided with National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Additionally, Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.
“Our TUSD schools rose to this challenge and both SAVE Promise Clubs and students in Associated Student Body planned daily activities ranging from morning waves, to recognizing upstanders, to exchanging Start with Hello bracelets,” explained Marie Russell, TUSD Director of Communications, Family Engagement & Outreach. “We know the friendships made this week will translate to a more inclusive, connected student body across TUSD.”
Also taking steps towards addressing mental health has been the Denair Unified School District. During their Sept. 14 Board of Trustees, an update was received on the recently created NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) club, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization that provides advocacy, education support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.
The primary goal is to raise mental health awareness and reduce stigma on campus through peer-led activities and education. School officials and students stressed that the clubs are not a place to be diagnosed, participate in group therapy or label members as having mental illness. Instead, the monthly meetings are a chance to discuss and learn about a particular mental health topic in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment.
A NAMI Club pilot program began in the last school year and included 42 students (21 at Denair Middle, 17 at Denair High and four at Denair Charter). The hope is to grow membership this year. Meanwhile, the on-campus organization has been in existence at Turlock Unified School District campuses for the past few years alongside Kindness clubs and Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) Promise Clubs.
As for the Hilmar and Hughson school districts, they join Turlock and Denair in encouraging usage of the STOPit application, which allows individuals to anonymously report safety, misconduct, or compliance concerns to help others or connect with trained crisis counselors from the Crisis Text Line to help themselves.
TUSD also promotes the usage of reporting through their “See Something, Say Something” campaign, which teaches middle and high school students to recognize the warning signs of someone at-risk of hurting themselves or others and how to say something to a trusted adult to get help.
“The number one priority I had for myself was launching SAVE Promise clubs at every school and getting our Say Something and Start with Hello Campaigns,” Russell said in March during a visit from representatives of the Sandy Hook Promise.
Turlock Unified will host “Say Something Week” from March 4 to 8 alongside the Sandy Hook Promise, to celebrate the importance of trusted adults and upstanders.