Johnston plays leadership role in national conference on student wellness

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(Left to right) Esha Bolar, Anjali Kumar, Lily Proctor and Emily Marshall.

JOHNSTON, Ia. (Oct. 18, 2022) — Johnston is playing a leadership role in an upcoming national conference on student wellness.

Illuminate: Student Summit on Wellness will convene school teams across the country to advance groundbreaking, student-led ideas for challenges that they identify related to well-being and mental health. The summit will be held Nov 11-13 in Crystal City, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

Johnston High School senior Esha Bolar is a facilitator for the National Honor Society (NHS) Student Leadership Network on Mental Health, a network that currently enrolls more than 300 NHS members. 

Bolar is one of nine student facilitators of the network who are also helping to lead the summit. She said a key part of being a leader is listening to other students, even if it’s just hearing about how their week is going.

“A lot of times, leaders are seen as the people speaking out, but sometimes, being a leader takes that skill of being able to listen,” Bolar said. “Sometimes, you don’t get that opportunity in school or elsewhere unless you have a therapist or trusted adult, and some students don’t have that.”

Four JHS students — Bolar, Anjali Kumar, Lily Proctor and Emily Marshall — along with two advisers, Jenny Palmer and Sara Kate Howe, will attend the summit next month. The trip was approved last week by the Johnston Board of Education. 

Over the course of the summit, student leaders will identify and prioritize an issue at their schools and propose realistic solutions. The teams’ experience culminates with producing a comprehensive action plan that defines their rationale and outlines next steps for implementation working towards change.

“It’s all about changing that stigma first,” Bolar said. “At my school, I think there are resources. Kids just don’t feel comfortable using them.”

The Johnston Community School District has taken several steps to make student-well being a priority this year. The district hired Chris Wilson as the district’s new Director of SEBMH (Social-Emotional, Behavior, Mental Health) and new SEBMH Interventionists (SI’s) to work directly with students in schools. In addition, a new assessment called SAEBRS (Social, Academic and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener) will help identify students who may benefit from additional interventions to support classroom success.  

Like  other facilitators with the NHS Student Leadership Network on Mental Health, Bolar said she is eager to learn ideas for erasing stigma and improving the mental health climate in their schools.

“I hope to bring back more resources, more unique ways of getting kids to open up, and also getting administrators to see that more and how to address it better in my community,” Bolar said. “We’re certainly taking steps to get there, but having more resources and having more know-how on how to treat mental health issues will definitely help.”