by ADAM GRUENEWALD
In one area of the Central High School gym students relaxed with yoga, meditation and nap time, while in another students played frisbee, enjoyed face painting and took part in strength and conditioning activities.
Like the live music played by Ellen Forst, the mental health break that over 300 students took part in last Wednesday played a sweet tune for school social worker Nancy Swiggum.
The idea for the event came just two weeks prior from students in a long-standing PEERS – Peers Encouraging Equality and Respect among Students – group. During a meeting, students were talking about how much stress they have at the end of the year with finals and graduation for some.
“They started talking about what we can do and teach students good ways to deal with stress and give them healthy, legal and safe ways to reduce stress,” said Swiggum.
The event covered all types of health for students as they ate healthy meals, learned about the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program and found time to socialize.
Swiggum also got plenty of area community members to take part as well, despite having no budget, as local chiropractors offers free massages, yoga instructor Carissa Myer led a session, Jean Mitchell offered guided meditation and
Susie Hedtke led the conditioning training.
“They didn’t hesitate,” she said. “The response I got was amazing.”
In addition to the 2-and-a-half break on Wednesday, members of the PEERS group also shared the importance of healthy eating, sleeping, physical activity and ways to reduce stress earlier in the week by creating posters, giving homeroom presentations and sharing school announcements.
Swiggum said the reaction of the students was phenomenal as they tried a variety of different activities during the day.
“Students know they have that within in them and trying to do all that they can reduce stress,” she said. “They can be active and do some positive things. Life doesn’t have to overwhelm and that was the point.”
In between playing a game, Brandee Borst said she was enjoying a break with her classmates.
“It’s kind of like a stress-free and fun environment before big finals and everything,” said Borst. “I finally get to relax with my friends rather than at home.”
Senior Rachel Hegseth added it helped her relax right before her upcoming graduation.
“We don’t have gym class anymore so it’s kind of nice to have the break and get to do stuff like this,” she said. “It’s crunch time if you’re failing anything so it’s nice to come in and relax with everybody.”
Hedtke, Central’s health and wellness coordinator, led students in a variety of strength and conditioning drills, some of which the students were not as familiar with.
“It’s a good stress reliever as far as it just gives you an out and something to do to get away from the stressful situations,” she said. “Obviously it’s good for your health in general. Sometimes it’s a mental break for a lot of people to focus on something else or not to focus on anything because you’re in a different mode.”
In addition to a healthy picnic lunch served by Taher and presentations by Jane Fleming of Carver County Mental Health, Lisa Jonas of the Jonas Center, NAMI and Emily Kelley of New Ulm-based Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention.
“Today we’re trying to encourage good mental health by increasing giggles,” Kelley said, explaining visitors to the booth can take information as well as enjoy laffy taffy and take a lemon and sharing a yellow ribbon smile. “They’ve been doing really good. They think it’s really kind of silly so that’s good because it releases endorphins which makes you feel better.”
At the end of the event a drawing was held with items and certificates from Scheels and Target and CHS Principal Tom Erickson gave away his parking spot for the rest of the year.
Swiggum said she expect the event to continue in the future as administration and teachers were on board, along with students.
“It was well received,” she said. “It’s just amazing. All the support is what made it happen… kids were pretty dedicated in a really unique way. I’m excited that it came from the kids.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at firstname.lastname@example.org.