Program helps area schools promote mental wellness during pandemic
By Tyler Schneider
A teen mental health campaign known as “You Be You” has been able to elevate their offerings for each of the 18 local participating middle and high schools as the pandemic continues to spell uncertainty for students, parents and teachers alike.
Created by the Jewish Family Services organization, “You Be You” has been bolstered by the addition of Mental Health and Youth Coordinator Sondra Wallace. In addition to launching a brand-new website, Wallace has added a new component to the program known as “Sources of Strength” — an eight part, internationally recognized, “comprehensive wellness approach to coping with day-to-day stressors as well as prevention of suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse for youth and adults through the power of connection, hope, help and strength.”
The eight factors — illustrated by a color wheel — are: family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access and mental health.
Wallace, who has 23 years of experience as both a teacher and principal, says these efforts are centered around “creating a sense of hope and gratitude” for youth in the midst of a chaotic holiday season riddled by complications created by the pandemic.
“Our youth have a really strong and powerful voice. So, when they are sending messages of hope, empowerment and encouragement, that spreads just as rapidly, if you will, as Covid does. Our goal is to inspire them to be that leader and that voice for encouragement, because positivity is contagious,” Wallace said.
These tactics aren’t overwhelming, and can be utilized by anyone — including adults.
“We promote really simple things that they can do to help change their mindset,” Wallace said. “One small example of what you can do when you feel overwhelmed, or are having negative thoughts, is to grab a post-it note and write down three things that you’re thankful for.”
It’s all about taking these small steps to shift the nature of how one communicates with the self.
“When we shift self talk from negativity to encouragement and words of empowerment, we can improve those skills over time — and it costs no money,” Wallace said.
“You Be You” has also added a handful of resources for those students from schools which may or may not be in a completely virtual setting. For partner schools and districts that are still offering a physical learning environment, Jewish Family Services has begun offering on-campus therapeutic counseling. For students who are stuck at home, this service has been extended to online Zoom sessions.
These telehealth services are, in many ways, “unique to ‘You Be You’,” Wallace said. “Because not all of the spaces out there are places where our students can be comfortable and feel safe. Our goal is to promote action oriented resources for health and wellness no matter where our students are.”
Schools in Missouri that currently participate in the program include Blue Springs High School, Blue Springs South High School, Blue Springs-Valley View Alternative, Moreland Ridge Middle School, Brookside Charter, Fort Osage High School, Grandview High School, Lee’s Summit High School, University Academy and Liberty North High School.