March 30, 2022 – Erasing the stigma around mental health and helping students be more aware of available resources are concerns that students have continuously shared with Duval County Public Schools.
Thanks to their input, the district has launched a new mental and emotional wellness initiative. GROW – which stands for Gain Resilience, Obtain Wellness – is designed to destigmatize mental and emotional health issues, empower students to take control of their mental wellness, and help connect them with resources.
The two main features of this initiative are the GROW clubs and the GROW website.
- GROW clubs: These clubs are student-led organizations at the high school level designed to promote great emotional and mental health among the student and staff body through regular activities and initiatives. The DA4Change student club at Douglas Anderson served as a blueprint for these clubs, with students planning events such as “Start with Hello” where students encouraged each other to say hello to someone they didn’t know. Or a “Take What You Need” bulletin board, where students attached envelopes to a bulletin board filled with encouraging messages. Individuals were invited to take an envelope.
- GROW website: Another feature of the GROW initiative is the GROW website. The website contains information on mental wellness topics such as self-care, managing stress, supporting others, and suicide prevention. It also addresses a major issue students shared, which was how to access resources. On the site, middle and high school students can locate their school and learn how to get immediate emotional or academic support, an appointment for mental health services, and even assistance with food, clothing, or housing needs.
The concept for GROW evolved last summer through the work of DCPS graduate, Emily Merton, who was interning with the district’s Communication team. Merton, a Riverside High School alumna, shared that she was studying to be a school counselor and was interested in helping the district develop a mental health initiative.
“I knew this was something the district was working on,” said Merton. “And I knew they had great intentions, but they knew they were missing a key ingredient…student voices. How did students feel? What were students saying? What were their needs? As a very recent high school graduate, I knew I could pull from my experience and the experience of my peers. I also knew that I could conduct research at the ground level with current students in a relatable way.”
That’s what Merton did. She set up several student focus groups, including at Douglas Anderson, Riverside High School, and Wolfson High School. Through her qualitative research, Merton concluded that among the many concerns from students was the lack of knowledge about available resources, a negative stigma surrounding mental health issues, and a lack of spaces/organizations/available adults that support mental and emotional wellness.
Using this input, Merton worked with the district’s Communications team to focus what the mental health campaign would address. Student input also led to the development of the GROW concept and artwork.
Director of Student Behavioral Health, Katrina Taylor, said the district is indebted to Merton and her peers.
“As adults, our hearts were in the right place, but without the student input, we were essentially operating in the dark,” said Taylor. “We needed Emily and we needed our current students to step up and turn on the lights. That’s what they did, and thanks to their guidance, we now have this fabulous resource.”
Taylor said this is just the beginning. Her team has been working to expand training opportunities for all school-based staff on dealing with youth mental health issues. They are also exploring how GROW clubs can be expanded into middle and elementary schools. Additionally, resources for elementary schools will be included into the GROW website.
The web address for GROW is www.duvalschools.org/grow. Students can also access the site by using the QR code on their student IDs.