Charlottesville High School — and especially its students — recently received a high compliment from the state’s secretary of education.
Atif Qarni visited CHS to discuss its mental health initiatives.
“This is a model situation you have here at CHS that we want to apply elsewhere,” Mr. Qarni told students. “You can really shape policy and the world you live in.”
The school is implementing two programs aimed at improving students’ mental health and providing peer support for those needing it.
One program is the Green Dot bystander intervention initiative, which trains students at the college, primary and secondary school levels to safely intervene to deter aggression, especially harassment, sexual assault or domestic violence.
Students are taught the strategies of “direct,” “distract” or “delegate.”
» Direct intervention can sometimes diffuse a problem; aggressors can be “talked down” from taking a dangerous action.
» Aggressors can be distracted from their aims, allowing a potential victim to leave and allowing the aggressor a cooling-off moment.
» Intervention can be delegated to others when the situation cannot be safely addressed otherwise. Students can alert adults; adults can call authorities if they need additional help.
The second program is Mental Health First Aid, supported by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council on Behavioral Health. It teaches students to recognize signs of mental distress among their peers. More than that, it teaches them how to come alongside their fellow students to offer support.
Young people may be more likely to open up to their peers about their problems than to confide in adults, the students pointed out.
After a successful pilot, CHS will implement the program school-wide, so that all students will get the same training, no student will be singled out as somehow unusual for taking the training, and a culture of mental health support will embedded throughout the school.
And as impressive as those steps might be, they’re not all that’s going on at CHS. Some students also are involved in additional programs, they told Mr. Qarni. One even founded her own group: ESL Equity, aimed at combating bullying against students trying to make the transition from life in another country.
CHS students have made some remarkable strides in addressing mental health concerns for themselves and their peers. But in so doing, they may well end up helping and inspiring students all over the commonwealth — extending their positive influence exponentially.
No wonder they’ve drawn the attention and the deserved praise of no less than the Virginia secretary of education.
They have our admiration as well.
Congratulations to CHS students, staff and administrators for their commitment toward peer mental health initiatives. Their efforts could prevent anguish, save lives and make high school a more manageable experience for countless students, now and in the years to come.