Sunday afternoon a crowd of approximately 100 people – parents, students, and community members - gathered at Holy Faith Church to watch the documentary, Race to Nowhere. This film – in about 80 minutes – captures the essence of the achievement culture that impacts student stress levels and mental health throughout the school years. The film, introduced by Isabella Procassini, president of STRIVE, a student led group for education reform, clearly resonated with many viewers. Later the audience had an opportunity to ask questions of a panel of educators and mental health professionals, and a lively discussion ensued, moderated by Pastor Ian Twiss.
Today’s panel consisted of 7 members - Scot Graden (Superintendent Saline Area Schools), Steve Laatsch (Asistant Superintendent of Instructional Services, Saline Area Schools), Julie Helber (Principal, Saline High School), David Raft (Principal, Saline Middle School), Joel Benedek (Social Worker, Saline Area Schools), Brian Pearson, Ph.D. (Clinical Director, Still Waters Counseling), and Kim Bryant (Admissions Counselor, University of Michigan).
Questions and comments from the audience ranged from topics such as amount of homework and stress on elementary schoolers, to availability of mental health support, to identification and teaching for all types of learners. Students in the audience spoke powerfully about their own experiences, urging parents to listen to them and engage in conversations about how much is too much from their perspective rather than trying to make choices for them. U of M admissions counselor, Kim Bryant, who also currently has 3 kids in the Saline School district, spoke about how some colleges are modifying their messaging to high school students, encouraging them to follow their passions rather than take classes or participate in activities simply to look good on a college application. Mental health professionals informed about help available in the school buildings, but also urged parents to “check in” frequently with their children about how they are really doing. Administrators spoke about their ongoing and sincere efforts to support students who can feel the stress of expectations at an early age as well as strategic planning efforts to encourage critical thinking and other skills relevant to 21st century learners.
Today’s screening was sponsored by STRIVE (Students Reinvesting in a Valuable Education), Saline Alive, Still Waters Counseling, and Holy Faith Church. There was general consensus that meaningful change in the system will not be simple or quick, but that changes that helps reduce student stress will need to happen at multiple levels, and will require a continuing effort and ongoing discussion.