MCPS, Whitman administrators address student wellness at Mental Health Awareness Month events


Katherine Teitelbaum

During the week of Oct. 10-14, Whitman administrators planned a daily wellness event to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month.

By Harper Barnowski

MCPS’ Division of Psychological Services hosted two live virtual events on Oct. 12 and Oct. 15 to address the stigma surrounding mental health disorders and present resources that support students and families. The two YouTube events took place during the school district’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

In the “Waymaking Special: Student Mental Health Forum” event, high school students discussed the factors that impact students’ mental health with Division of Psychological Services Director Dr. Christina Chester. Panelists shared feedback on the county’s existing mental health supports and answered viewers’ questions about strategies for supporting struggling peers.

The events followed Superintendent Monifa McKnight’s “All Together Now” community conversations last April, in which families expressed concerns over the mounting mental health crisis among students.

At the forum, panelists discussed the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges navigating the transition back to in-person school and recent upticks in violent incidents in schools. They asked MCPS officials to connect students with additional resources and encourage teachers to form connections with their pupils. 

Chester hopes that the virtual events will expose families to the expanding array of mental health resources the school district is offering to its students, she said.

“The goal is for more folks to know about the resources that are available,” Chester said. “We want this to help destigmatize mental health so all families can feel like [these resources are] an option that can help themselves and their children.”

At the Mental Health Resource Fair on Oct. 15, representatives from nine Montgomery County mental health organizations — including Jewish Social Services Agency (JSSA), Everymind and the Montgomery County Crisis Center — presented the resources that their programs offer. JSSA and the Crisis Center each offer therapy, while Everymind operates 988, a mental health crisis hotline. 

For some students, like Whitman junior Mattie Bovis, improving well-being in schools starts with incremental steps like spacing out tests to avoid multiple exams in a single day.

“I find it stressful when I have multiple tests on the same day, and this happens very frequently,” Bovis said. “I think teachers could coordinate better to figure out how to space out the tests and make the workload more manageable.”

Administrators introduced several stress-reduction initiatives last year, including no homework weekends, “recess” periods and study halls. However, the monthly measures did not return this fall. Whitman’s designated Wellness Center will also serve as a space for students to meet with social workers and is “about to open,” according to Principal Robert Dodd. The Center was set to open on the first day of school but has been delayed by staffing challenges, MCPS Director of Facilities Management Seth Adams told The Black & White in September.

During the week of Oct. 10-14, Whitman administrators planned a daily wellness event to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. Students could color, walk around the track during lunch, enjoy water and snacks and play with the dogs that came to the bus loop during lunch to decrease stress.

Junior Amelia Otte said that she enjoyed the opportunity to get fresh air at the “Walking Wednesday” event on Oct. 12.

“Walking Wednesday was my favorite event,” Otte said. “It was fun to be able to exercise outside on a beautiful day.” 

Volunteers from the PTSA’s Stressbusters Committee also distributed KIND protein bars at the school on the morning of Oct. 14 as the last event of Mental Health Awareness week. 

Dodd believes that students’ mental health has improved since last year, he said.

“Students seem more relaxed this school year,” Dodd said. “They seem like they’ve gotten back into normal school routines that we took for granted in the past.”

However, he acknowledged that the school community still has more work ahead. Students and staff should address the underlying causes of stress in their efforts to improve students’ well-being, he said.

“We as a school have to continue to try to untangle that and find ways to ensure that kids can excel, but aren’t overwhelmed by high school,” Dodd said. “[The week’s events] aren’t earthshaking activities but they are things we’re doing this week to consistently send the message that there are little things we can do daily to take care of ourselves.”