Talking about tough topics such as sexual assault, drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, family problems, and eating disorders is not always easy for teenagers. However, students at Westfield High School (WHS) recently tackled these tough topics and more through a variety of special programs aimed at enhancing student wellness, a top priority at the school.
The week-long effort began with the annual “The Girl Thing” program – a peer leadership program led by senior girls who volunteer their time to be trained, plan, and facilitate the event. The highlight of this program is the reading of the anonymous letters written by senior girls. The deeply personal letters covered a variety of issues. According to WHS Health Educator, Susan Kolesar, “The letters are intended to help underclassmen avoid making life-altering mistakes as well as to serve as a source of inspiration for when they might face challenges in their own lives.” After the letter reading, girls split up into smaller groups led by the senior facilitators to discuss the letters and learn about resources for help. A theme that ran across the letters was “Be yourself.” The slogan selected by the seniors for this years’ program was “be*YOU*tiful”.
Another presentation that took place during “The Girl Thing” event was called “Off Da’ Hook”. Participants debated the pros and cons of the “hook-up” culture that exists in many high schools and universities in the country. They learned about the possible physical, mental, and social outcomes of “hooking-up” and discussed the role of the media in influencing such behavior. They also discussed the ambiguity of the term and how that, in and of itself, can lead to gossip, rumors, and social problems.
“The Girl Thing” concluded with a program for students called “It Gets Better Now”. Four speakers shared their experiences as gay and lesbian members of the WHS community. This presentation was opened to both male and female students.
During that same week, Grade 10 Health classes attended a presentation about coping with loss and how to help others who are grieving. It was presented by Ms. Connie Palmer, LCSW and Clinical Training Director at Imagine: A Center for Coping with Loss, which is based in Westfield. Their new educational outreach program called “#Here4U” aims to educate students about grief, loss, and mourning. She was assisted by WHS students and Imagine Youth Facilitators, Joseph Alameno, Kaitlyn Larkin, Rebecca Freer, Meghan Summers, Meghan Pettit, and Matthew Friedman. Imagine is a free, year-round peer grief support center for children and adults. They also recently expanded their program to included teens who have experienced the death of a friend and to families dealing with life-altering situations, such as terminal illness.
WHS Health teachers Susan Kolesar and Michelle Spreitzer, who are volunteer facilitators at Imagine, coordinated all of the events, most of which were led by student volunteers. English teacher Jill Minarik also helped to organize “The Girl Thing”. The programs were well-received by students who provided feedback through anonymous evaluations. Virtually all agreed that these programs are educational, beneficial, and that they should continue.
For more information about these programs, contact Susan Kolesar at firstname.lastname@example.org.