Minds behind the operation: Sophomores plan Mental Health Week

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By Ben Shapiro and Aashita Singh, Co-Copy Editor and Staff Reporter Over one morning’s breakfast, sophomore Giu Presa Vespa and her dad devised a plan to bring the student body together: taking a week out of the school year to focus on mental health. That same day, she brought the idea to principal Dr. Amy...

By Ben Shapiro and Aashita Singh, Co-Copy Editor and Staff Reporter

Over one morning’s breakfast, sophomore Giu Presa Vespa and her dad devised a plan to bring the student body together: taking a week out of the school year to focus on mental health. That same day, she brought the idea to principal Dr. Amy Meisinger’s attention, who, as Presa Vespa recalled, “absolutely loved it.”

After numerous meetings with Conestoga’s administration, Meisinger gave Presa Vespa the okay to start organizing the week’s plans, activities and assemblies. In late December, Presa Vespa reached out to a group of her friends and peers, and they began planning Conestoga’s first-ever Mental Health Week that took place from March 28 to April 1.

“She (Meisinger) has heard from so many parents and students about how much we’ve been stressed out recently and just throughout the entire year, and she thought (Mental Health Week) was a good idea,” Presa Vespa said. “I hope that it will leave an impact at Conestoga and that students will benefit from it.”

Knowing that students would be excited to participate and engage in activities during class time, Presa Vespa called upon her peers to brainstorm interactive methods to teach students about coping mechanisms and how best to handle mental health problems and stress. From Monday, March 28 to Thursday, March 31, students listened to presentations by speakers from Minding Your Mind, an organization that holds mental health-focused assemblies at schools about topics ranging from independence to effective coping mechanisms. On Friday, April 1, students participated in a Cornucopia-styled “mental health fair” during the school day.

“A lot of (Friday’s events) consisted of chill activities like painting and coloring in the art rooms, movies, meditation, dance lessons, chilling and listening to music, board games and a kindness room — just a lot of really chill activities,” said sophomore Jordan Jacoel, one of the students helping to plan the week’s activities.

In addition, on Friday, student services brought emotional support dogs to the courtyard and students had the opportunity to play with them at specified times during the day. In planning Mental Health Week, Presa Vespa and her team of student-leaders worked closely with ninth grade assistant principal and head of student activities, Dr. Nicole Jolly. Frequently meeting with the students to discuss the events they wanted to hold and the methods by which they wanted to get students involved, Jolly helped with the logistical side of things, providing administrative insight and aid.

“She (Presa Vespa) did a lot of the legwork on her own; I wanted to see how dedicated she was to the cause. It was already a great idea, but once I saw the vision that she wanted to take with it, I was like, ‘We can make this happen,’” Jolly said.

With the main goal of the week being to relieve stress and the pressure of academics, Prespa Vespa pushed to remove homework assignments, tests and quizzes during Mental Health Week. While teachers were allowed to continue with their lesson plans, school administration strongly encouraged them to limit homework and exams, specifically asking them to be intentional with how much work they assigned and choose at least one day to not assign any homework at all. Sophomore Katherine Nguyen, one of Mental Health Week’s student-leaders, saw the plan to reduce students’ workload — and therefore stress — as an opportunity for students to collaborate with each other and focus on their mental health.

“I’m really excited because of the unity factor and the fact that we can come together as a school and it not (be for) an academic-related reason,” Nguyen said. “We can get to know our peers on a deeper level, reflect on ourselves and our mental health, and become more self-aware of our own mental health and how we can help improve our lives by creating a more positive environment for everybody.”


Ben Shapiro can be reached at [email protected]

Aashita Singh can be reached at [email protected]

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