Teens start discussing mental health

Fatima Angulo looks a year’s worth of “nasty” tar that will collect in a smoker’s lungs at the Friday quad gathering, the culmination of a week’s worth of mental health awareness activities at Winters High School. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

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While many in the nation are wringing their hands over what to do about school shootings, students at Winters High School spent last week considering one of the roots of violence: mental illness. To add a twist of sad irony, on the very day of the culmination of a weeklong effort to raise adolescent mental health issues — a lunchtime gathering of informational booths, food and free gifts on Friday — there was yet another school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

Students visiting the booths on the high school quad offered plenty of positive feedback about the week,

Students visiting the informational booths on Friday of Mental Health Awareness Week were given journals to record their thoughts and feelings.
Photo by Debra DeAngelo

which featured uplifting “Post-It” notes on every locker, free journals for writing about feelings and reminders about the importance of being kind to others.

Senior Fatima Angulo, who was examining a jar containing one year’s worth of tar from smoking cigarettes at one of the educational booths, declare the contents “nasty,” but said the week of mental health awareness activities were anything but.

“The activities were fun and important,” said Angulo. “There’s a lot of people that go through stuff. There was something fun and positive for everyone.

Jordan Kobaugh, while chatting with representatives from Yolo County Mental Health, said the week’s activities were “really important.”

“I feel like it’s something a lot of people don’t really know how to address,” said Kobaugh, a junior. “It’s important to know.”

Sophomore Fabioloa Guzman said the week was “fun” and “cool,” and “something I haven’t heard so far in high school, so it was a good experience.”

Guzman said of all the week’s activities, she was most impressed with the talk given on Friday morning by the current Miss California, Jillian Smith, representing the “Dude. Be Nice” effort.

“Miss California came and talked about how she got bullied and how she overcame it with positivity,” said Guzman. “She showed us how to stay positive and ‘kill them with kindness.’”

Smith, who attended the Friday lunchtime gathering and was greeting people from the local law enforcement

booth, confirmed that she was, in fact, bullied while growing up, to the point that her parents transferred her to three different schools in three years. She reiterated that “kill them with kindness” was something her mother always said to her, and something she took to heart.

“This was a major theme of my whole life,” said Smith, explaining that as Miss California, she visits high schools all over the state to spread the “Dude. Be Nice” message and inspire students to put kindness into action.

“It takes so much less effort to be nice than it does to be mean,” said Smith, adding that “kindness, gratitude and inclusivity” are the three pillars of “Dude. Be Nice.” She emphasized that the program highlights the ways for teens to behave in a positive way and gives positive goals, rather than telling them how “not” to behave.

“It’s way more effective,” said Smith.

Winters High School teacher Olivia Rodriquez coordinated Mental Health Awareness Week and advised the student Friday Night Live members who worked on it and said she is pleased with the inaugural event, and also with the reaction from students and their enthusiasm about wearing the green ribbons and bracelets signifying this special week.

“It went great,” said Rodriquez.“It was amazing to see all of the lime green ribbons and bracelets worn by the students. Each student also wrote a thank you note to one person that has made a positive impact on their lives. It was neat to look across the gym and see students furiously writing their thank you notes.

“One of the students told me, /It’s about time we start talking about mental health.’ Even if we just reach one student, it was all worth it.”

Those interested in supporting mental health efforts and next year’s Mental Health Awareness Week can contact Rodriguez at Winters High School, 795-6140.

Visiting with Winters High School students at the Friday lunchtime gathering wrapping up Mental Health Awareness Week are, from left, (front) Winters Community Services Officer Roberto Cuevas, Officer Victor Barajas and Officer Darion Cueto, and California Highway Patrol Information Officer Rodney Fitzhugh; (back) Miss California 2007 Melissa Chaty, Miss California 2017 Jillian Smith, Miss Marin 2018 Olga Kolin, and Winters High School teacher and coordinator of Mental Health Awareness Week, Olivia Rodriguez.
Photo by Debra DeAngelo
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