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CCE celebrates Valentine’s Day and mental health awareness at local middle school

Published on February 24, 2023

CCE celebrates Valentine’s Day and mental health awareness at local middle school

CCE volunteers work with Windham Middle School students during the "I Love Me" event. 

While the recent spike in reported mental health cases has predominantly affected adults, many children have also begun to experience the challenges of mental illness. To support the local community, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) has taken the initiative to address mental health concerns in the local school district. CCE volunteers have established a program to teach students lifelong lessons on how to combat mental health issues.

Middle schoolers and volunteers create snow globes.

CCE volunteers hosted "I Love Me," a mental health awareness event at Windham Middle School, on Feb. 13, 2023. Fifteen students from local middle schools attended the event.

CCE Program Coordinator Lexie Mastroianni said they intentionally held the event near Valentine’s Day. She wanted to ensure that each student felt a sense of love, compassion and care during the holiday.

“I love this event because it’s important to get the students involved at a young age,” said Mastroianni. “Creating a conversation can help spread awareness about mental health issues, even for children.”

To bolster student engagement, CCE volunteers created six interactive stations. Each station represented a specific aspect of mental health. During the two-hour event, students expressed their inner emotions by creating a variety of arts and crafts.

Students painted positive affirmation reminders, spun a "mental health" wheel to describe their personal coping methods, found matching cards displaying suggestions to deter mental illness, made Valentine's Day themed cupcakes, played cornhole and created makeshift snow globes.

A WMS student displays a positive affirmation painting.

“All of the activities relate to positive affirmations,” said Martha Castillo, CCE student leader for Windham Elementary School. “If they are having a bad day, they can look back at these events, and use the coping mechanisms, positive self-affirming qualities and tools they’ve learned.”

Carly Olsten, CCE student volunteer, said children will likely have to confront mental health issues at some point in their lives. Therefore, she believes that it is imperative to begin teaching students about mental health awareness and recognition at a young age. 

“It’s helpful to have other people, who are older, that can give you their perspective on how to overcome mental health issues,” said Olsten.

Castillo said that middle schoolers are within the prime age range to become familiar with mental health techniques, because they are still attempting to understand their own feelings, identities and social groups.

“In order to spread self-love, it’s important for students to know that no one will ever love them as much as they love themselves,” Castillo said. “I feel like that is an important message, especially for this age group.”

The CCE holds school outreach events every Monday. They are hoping to offer similar programs to Eastern students during future semesters.

Written by Jack Jones