May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness month, and several programs outside of school about managing emotions have been made available to teachers and students of the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls, including a session about managing mental health during the gap year in Israel.

SKA students were presented with an extraordinary week-long program devoted to mental health awareness. Organized by SKA’s Guidance Department, each day of the week, beginning on Monday, May 16, was dedicated to mental health issues faced by students, based on suggestions made by the SKA student Mental Health Awareness Committee.

The concept was initiated last year at SKA by two students who wanted to bring awareness and discussion to the issues that were on students’ minds. The program was an enormous success, paving the way to this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2.0.

The kickoff event of the week in school had a panel of students presenting to faculty and the entire student body what it is like to be “on the other side of the desk,” while dealing with mental health challenges. The student panelists read passages submitted anonymously by other students about issues they face every day in school, such as anxiety, impulsivity, relationships with teachers and friends, etc. Later the same day, noted Registered Dietician Mrs. Dalia Abbot spoke to each grade about body image and self-esteem.

One of the highlights of the week’s programming was the excursion the next day to the Malverne Theater to see the outstanding movie Encanto, which deals with anxiety, perfectionism, emotional regulation, and the pursuit of self-discovery; the themes and how they relate to teenagers today were then explored on Wednesday in discussion groups in school, facilitated by homeroom teachers and guidance staff. In the afternoon, students had the opportunity to pick from three different therapeutic environments: therapy dogs, a mindfulness and meditation room, and a beading exercise.

Each grade had the opportunity to celebrate a meaningful Lag BaOmer in the evening with their friends and grade level advisors in school (ninth grade), the Ellenberg home (tenth grade), Judaic Studies Principal Mrs. Kaminetsky’s home (eleventh grade) and the Jacobowitz home (twelfth grade), enjoying glowing bonfires, inspirational Jewish music, and delicious food in a relaxed atmosphere. The Freshmen also took the opportunity to write letters to their twelfth grade selves of what they hoped to achieve in the next three years of high school.

The SKA cafe and hilarious faculty-student games on Lag BaOmer on Thursday served as a break from the rigors of school and as a chance for students to connect with each other. Our pre-Lag BaOmer speaker, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, had infused us with the joy of living with emunah, and his words reverberated throughout the day.

Friday’s experiential art project rounded off the SKA Mental Health Week in a very positive way. Many students commented throughout the week on how they felt validated for their concerns and their issues acknowledged.

SKA’s Mental Health student-produced newsletter was launched this week, showcasing challenges faced by teenagers, and bringing awareness and communication in our school.

Our sincere thanks go to SKA’s Guidance Department (Ms. Lisa Fogel, Mrs. Yael Fischman, and Dr. Chana Renov), Director of Student Programming Rabbi Yosef Zakutinsky, and Assistant of Programming Mrs. Yafa Storch, Dean of Students Mrs. Shira Englander, the SKA faculty members who helped facilitate the week, and the many SKA student committee members for their work in organizing this enlightening and special week.