WNHS juniors focus on mental health awareness as part of Central Ohio research collaborative project

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When a group of juniors at Westerville North High School considered what change they’d want to see in their school, they focused their efforts on mental health and surveyed their peers to get a pulse on the issues they are currently facing. 

Their research offered some interesting insights: Students shared they experienced real distress in their lives. And while they are aware of the resources available to them, they do not feel comfortable using them. 

For Abigail Heck, Chris Johnson and Aurora Bell, the results inspired them to find a solution that both educated their peers, broke stigmas, and provided support to WNHS students. 

The student-led project is part of Ohio State University’s Student Research Leadership Collaborative, a research initiative for Central Ohio high schools. Through the collaborative, students work with an advisor and research an issue that’s important to them at their school, examining the nature, causes and potential solutions. 

The WNHS students recently shared their solutions through a capstone project and oral presentation to district officials and leaders from the collaborative’s partners, which include the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, and Columbus State Community College.

Heck, Johnson and Bell sought to focus their project on mental health following the death of one of their classmates and the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. After reviewing their survey results, the group settled on a solution that would raise mental health awareness, provide resources, break stigmas surrounding the discussion of mental health and create a time and space for students to feel comfortable among their peers.

They implemented the SOS: Signs of Suicide Program, created by Nationwide Children's Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, at WNHS. Their next step is to present their findings and suggestions to district leaders.

Dr. Keith Bell, a lecturer at Ohio State's College of Education and Human Ecology, created the collaborative, which provides students with a platform to enact change in the school communities. The two-year program starts with juniors researching an issue they’d like to address, then putting their ideas into action as well as mentoring other collaborative students as a senior.

Bell, who previously served as principal at WSHS and a district administrator in Westerville, said the program features three components: leadership, advocacy and research.

He hopes to help students become informed and educated advocates, building on how some of them were engaged in the widespread protests over the death of George Floyd. And he wants them to understand how to use quantitative and qualitative data to enact change in their school.