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By Maddy Rothfield @MaddyRothfield
The second annual Montgomery County Public Schools-Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations(MCPS-MCCPTA) Mental Health and Wellness Forum took place at Earle B. Wood Middle School on Jan. 12. Attendees included County Executive Marc Elrich, Council Member Sidney Katz, President of the Board of Education Shebra Evans and Board of Education Member Rebecca Smondrowski.
Keynote speaker Jill Ortman-Fouse, a former Montgomery County Board of Education Member, opened the forum focused on what she described the trauma that schoolchildren experience and how the county must do more to help them.
“I’ve seen so many pleas for help, and I’m convinced that we have a serious issue,” Ortman-Fouse said. “Trauma is county wide; it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.”
Throughout her speech, Ortman-Fouse emphasized that everyone suffers in some capacity, making trauma such as depression and anxiety an issue for everyone. She noted many reasons for the increase in anxiety and depression in students, including increased parental pressure to succeed, device dependency and online bullying.
A main focus of Ortman-Fouse was the increase in gun violence in schools and the effect it has on students.
“They wonder when they go to school; if today will be the day,” she said while touching on the trauma caused by school lockdowns, in which students fear that there is a gunman in the school.
The solution Ortman-Fouse proposed is listening to students and giving them a voice in the decisions involving them.
“Our kids are hurting, our staff are hurting, we’re hurting, this conference can’t be a singular point in time when we discuss these things,” Ortman-Fouse said.
After Ortman-Fouse gave her introduction, the crowd of over 300 got the chance to attend breakout sessions of their choosing. Eleven different sessions were offered, including topics on teen depression, the LGBTQ experience, bullying and violence prevention and reactive vs. proactive parenting in the digital world.
One session, entitled “Building a Culture of Trust: Lessons from Northwood H.S.” featured a panel of administrators and one student discussing the success of the school’s Wellness Center, which is one of four in the county. The mission of the Wellness Center is to “help students in the school community reach their full potential by offering coordinated medical care, quality counseling, positive youth development and health education experiences in a confidential and culturally sensitive manner.”
Erica Garcia, the parent outreach specialist for the center, describes it as “a support system for the school.” Mindfulness coach for the school, Jeff Donald, said that his work is important to the school because, “Mindfulness gives kids and adults the tools for self-control.”
In the main hallway, over a dozen booths had been set up by different wellness organizations. This included organizations such as Choose Respect, an initiative of the Montgomery County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and the Jewish Coalition against Domestic Abuse.
Another booth was from Caring Matters, a free social support system for individuals in the community facing life-threatening illness and experiencing grief.
Many parents and community members who attended the forum said they felt the same way. The large turnout at the event showed that the severity and frequency of students facing trauma has increased, and that Montgomery County wants to solve the problem.
The forum concluded with a student talkback moderated by current Student Member of the Board Ananya Tadikonda.