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Midterm battle: STEP-Up plans activities to combat stress

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    Tamaqua Area High School seniors Jada Schellhammer and Jane Kupchinsky filled the school’s hallways with messages of positivity during Mental Health Week. A number of stress reducing activities were held in the lead up to midterm exams. See more photos at KATHY KUNKEL/TIMES NEWS

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    Kickboxing is a great way to deal with stress according to instructor Beth Fligge, who volunteered her time to help students in Tamaqua Area High School prepare for exams. Kickboxing was just one of 25 activities available to students for Mental Health Day on Jan. 11

Published January 15. 2019 12:31PM


Midterms — a word guaranteed to cause stress levels to rise for any student. And, it’s not just students who feel the stress of midterm exams. The anxiety is also felt by anyone in the schools, teachers and staff alike.

This year, the week leading up to midterms at Tamaqua Area High School was filled with ways to bring down those stress levels, thanks to a cooperative effort by Raiders STEP-Up, faculty, administration and staff.

The week culminated with “Mental Health Activity Day” on Friday with students encouraged to choose from 25 known stress-reducing activities, and two 50-minute periods during the afternoon to learn relaxation techniques.

The idea grew out of an October leadership seminar by the high school group, which was created in 2016 in response to the opioid epidemic.

Raiders STEP-Up began with 20 students. That number quadrupled in 2017 to 84 students, with those numbers exploding to 237 in time for the leadership seminar.

Guest speakers included Tamaqua Superintendent Raymond Kinder, Tamaqua Station Restaurant owner John Ross, Tamaqua Community Arts Center Director Leona Rega and Tamaqua Area Community Partnership Director Micah Gursky.

The students broke up into groups, brainstorming ideas on ways to deal with the pressures of high school. Those ideas were then presented to high school Principal Thomas McCabe and faculty advisers Caitlin Miller, Ruth Ann Gardiner, Cathy Miorelli, Amanda Woodring, Kim Woodward, Jen Curcio, Christine Kostecky and Phil Traube.

The adults promised to research those ideas and implement what was practical. Those promises were kept and the bulk of the students’ ideas (40 in total so far) were put into play in time for midterms.

Tamaqua Assistant Superintendent Dr. Steven Toth says the administration begins planning for a school year within weeks of the end of the previous school year.

“Principal McCabe and I met in July to begin planning the 2018-2019 school year, including curriculum and social/emotional planning. The STEP-Up program has provided a lot of small ideas leading to big results. Ms. Miller and Principal McCabe did an awesome job of bringing the students’ ideas to life. Kudos to them for bringing this to fruition,” he said.

Mental Health Week began with students posting positive messages on lockers, windows and bulletin boards. Happy, positive thoughts were visible no matter where you looked.

Jane Kupchinsky, a senior, said, “I love the idea of helping people de-stress. Last year was really difficult for me. Helping others helps me. It’s great to be able to come to school to be myself.”

Jada Schellhammer agreed her junior year was really stressful.

“Mental Health Week has been a great way to bring the student body together in a positive manner, and positivity is a great way to de-stress. This week has made me feel better for midterms. I’ve definitely put less stress on myself,” Schellhammer said.

Earlier in the week, guest instructors Stephanie Gensure, Erin Davis and Tiffany Hoffman led students in special workouts in physical education classes, while Amanda Kester, Beth Fligge and Candice Hadesty volunteered their time to introduce students to yoga, meditation and coping strategies on Friday.

Other activities included: kickboxing, table tennis, lifting, mixed media art, baking, DIY meditational mandalas, silent reading, board games, a dance party, cocoa with a counselor, music and tea, coffee house-style jam session, Improv, TED talks, test anxiety, crocheting and knitting, DIY sugar scrub, comedy club, brain games, set building, coloring and a therapy dog.

Miller said, “While we do focus on mental health awareness at other times during the year, this week focused on providing multiple opportunities to engage in mental wellness. The Social Development Strategy drives the theory behind the week, which encourages providing students with opportunities, skill building and recognition for efforts while bonding with their teachers, which increases protective factors and healthy outcomes.

“The hallways of the school are filled with examples of the talents of our students, showing them their capabilities. It shows how valuable they are,” Miller said. “The school is filled with collective joy rather than collective despair. Raiders STEP-Up plans on using student feedback to shape future events and hopes to see similar prosocial activities increase as part of their drug prevention mission.”


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