The fair highlighted student voices and spread awareness of resources in schools and the community
On Saturday, Oct. 27, the Montgomery County Office of Student and Family Support and Engagement (OSFSE) hosted a Mental Health and Wellness Resource Fair at Julius West Middle School in Rockville from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The fair was held in recognition of Mental Health and Wellness Awareness Month and featured a student panel, community and governmental organization tables and breakout sessions.
During the first half of the fair, a student panel composed of seven Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) middle and high school students discussed topics such as the difficulty of approaching counselors, the importance of publicizing resources available in schools and combating the stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental health. The panel was moderated by Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski and Director of Psychological Services Christina Conolly.
The student panelists recommended different ways to encourage students to open up about mental health to their counselors. Student Member of the Board Ananya Tadikonda suggested diversifying the counselor workforce in order for students to connect with them. "It's hard to discuss cultural issues, such as being pulled between two different ethnic cultures or religions, when you don't feel you can connect with the person sitting across the table," she said.
Shairee Arora, an eighth grader at Roberto Clemente Middle School, said the 1:200 counselor-to-student ratio in MCPS prevents students from forming a personal bond with their counselor. "There's no real chance to build a relationship with them, so it's like you're telling your deepest feelings to a complete stranger," she said.
The students also voiced concerns that resources in their schools addressing mental health, such as a full-time psychologist, are not adequately publicized. "A lot of my peers don't know that we have these people who are willing to help us, so just making it more accessible and making these events more publicized is the best way to tackle this issue," said Emnet Kahsay, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School.
Local organizations attended the fair to promote services that address mental, psychological and emotional health. Some tables offered information on dating violence prevention, bullying and substance abuse, while others were manned by representatives from the mental health services EveryMind and Sheppard-Pratt, the Montgomery County School Psychologists' Association and the Department of Health and Human Services.
During the second half of the fair, mental health experts and psychologists held breakout sessions such as yoga, workshops on self care and building resiliency and a talk for parents on strengthening families.
Attendees agreed that the fair was successful in spreading the word about mental health. "I think [the fair] is getting the word out that school psychologists are in every school, and just increasing awareness of mental health in general and reducing that stigma," Ashley Boswell, a Montgomery County school psychologist, said.
MCPS recognized mental health this month by sharing a mental health tip every day from Oct. 16 to Oct. 26. Each school is also required to implement an age-appropriate mental health and wellness activity for their students before Nov. 16.
Blair celebrated Mental Health and Wellness Awareness Month with Therapeutic Thursdays, where students participated in activities, such as coloring, playing with play-doh and creating their own stress balls, in the Student Activity Center during both lunches. Counselors visited freshman English classes to talk about the resources they provide, and the Blair PTSA is hosting a mental health awareness night in mid-December.
Emmy Song. Hi! I'm Emmy and I'm a senior at Blair. I am excited to serve as one of SCO's Editors-in-Chief this year. When I'm not working on SCO, I can be found solving math problems, curating Spotify playlists, or watching the sun set. More »