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"I got your back," Schuylkill Technology Center students told during mental health training

Republican Herald - 9/23/2022

Sep. 23—MINERSVILLE — Mental health took center stage Thursday at Minersville Area High School.

In classic cheerleading style, a student on stage called out "Give me an A" and so on until the word "Aevidum" was spelled out by students flashing placards.

Other students held up signs with slogans like "Battlin' Together," "Battlin' for each other" and "Mining down the stigma."

The slogans, based on the school's "Battlin' Miners" logo, were part of a greeting by Minersville Area students to visiting students from Schuylkill Technology Center's north and south campuses.

Sixteen technology center students — eight from each campus — were in Minersville for Aevidum club training.

Minersville Area was the first high school in Schuylkill County to start an Aevidum club, a student-run organization aimed at combating depression and other mental health problems confronting students.

Cara Sanfilippo, school counselor, said students at Minersville Area started the club after three students took their own lives in 2021.

With Minersville Area taking the lead, Aevidum clubs have been started in all Schuylkill County high schools.

Before year's end, Sanfilippo said, Minersville Area will extend Aevidum training to middle schools.

Aevidum — a made up word with roots in Latin — translates to "I got your back." It's based on four principles: appreciate, acknowledge, care for and accept.

"Every student needs to feel they are accepted and that they have a place to go," Sanfilippo said. "It's like creating a family environment, and that's important because we're such a small school."

Minersville Area has about 530 students in junior and senior high.

Superintendent Carl McBreen greeted the visiting technology center students.

"Tragedy invaded our community and our school," McBreen said. "We were devastated by what happened."

In an appeal for unity, McBreen said students at the technology center were on the right path.

"We're all in this together," he said. "You're going to make your respective schools very proud."

Mental health problems among students were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, McBreen said, though they existed well before the virus emerged in early 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 1 in 10 students admitted thinking of taking their own lives, and 1 in 5 gave it serious consideration, according to "Our Kids In Crisis," a special report by the American Association of Retired Persons.

Social media, the pandemic and vast cultural changes have left a generation anxious and depressed, the report concluded.

Principal Michael Maley gave a short but poignant greeting.

"Have fun, get to know one another and be kids," he said.

Stacey Minahan, assistant director, said the technology center engaged in an anti-bullying campaign last year through the National School Climate Center.

"We were looking for a way to advance our training, and we found Aevidum." she said. "I like the idea of kids teaching kids."

Minahan said that the 16 students in the Aevidum Club represent a wide range of career paths at the center's campuses. Curricula represented include welding, carpentry, criminal justice and child care.

Gretchen Witman, a social worker at both campuses, said mental health issues among students are on the rise.

"Kids need concrete tools to make it better for themselves and their peers," she said. "And, that's what Aevidum gives them."

As part of the training, students from the technology center's North Campus in Frackville and South Campus in Mar Lin took the stage and explained their aspirations for the club.

"I want to be there for somebody," said Iris Stehr, a junior criminal justice major. "And I want somebody to be there for me."

George Lopez, a sophomore business management major, expressed a sentiment that's at the heart of the Aevidum creed.

"Everyone is entitled to have a dream, even if it's at a low point in their lives," he said. "Their dream should not have to go to waste just because no one was there to help them when they needed it."

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