6th through 8th grade students from Community Middle School in West Windsor are supporting AIR and the Miki & Friends Open AIR event on May 18 through their student-led organization called HEAL. Through their fundraising page, they hope to raise enough money to fund an AIR program at another district school.
“They’re trying to raise money for AIR so these programs can get into classrooms everywhere,” said Rebecca McLelland-Crawley, Ed.D., NBCT, who coordinates with the HEAL students. “We know it’s not just us, it goes beyond West Windsor-Plainsboro School District.”
HEAL stands for Health Encouraging Anti-stigma League and arose out of an 8th grade project last year when students created projects centered around mental illness, why there is a stigma and how we can help people.
“The kids want to know at what point is it okay to start talking about it?” said McLelland-Crawley. “Our kids want to talk about it. Our kids have questions.”
The students call themselves “HEALers” and try to facilitate ways to discuss mental health awareness, signs of mental health issues and how to get help. The students are not counselors, but they have gotten training from AIR on youth mental health and on how to connect others with the help they need.
“Even though kids know they should get help, they’re not as likely to get it because there is a stigma,” she said.
So the HEALers are trying to change things.
“They’re ripping that band aid off,” she said. “You can’t fix a problem if you don’t own the current reality.”
They offer a Book Club where students can read and discuss books such as “Don’t Call Me Crazy” by Kelly Jensen. They also have a Lunch Bunch where students can discuss mental health.
“You’re a good human. You can share with me. This is a safe space for you and we’re going to connect you with the right people,” said McLelland-Crawley of how the students want to create a welcoming atmosphere to discuss mental health.
This Saturday, HEAL and students from NuYU are hosting a Wellness Fair at Community School to offer de-stressing techniques and give students a chance to meet therapy dogs, including AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds therapy dog teams.
HEAL also is looking beyond this Saturday and the Miki & Friends Open AIR event. These students are planning a city-wide walk on October 10 in honor of World Mental Health Day. They also are reaching out to legislators to ensure that mental health education becomes part of regular school curriculum and not just a one- or two-day presentation.
“This is important,” said McLelland-Crawley. “Health occurs both above and below the neck.”
You can help support AIR:
- You can donate to HEAL’s fundraising page here
- You can make a donation to AIR,
- Or create your own AIR fundraising page. These pages allow you to share photos, personal stories and more.
- You also can register as a walk participant here and join us on May 18