June 14, 2024
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Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy Upper School Raises Mental Health Awareness

Life isn’t always easy. But getting through life as a teenager—dealing with the emotional challenges of transitioning between childhood and adulthood—can be especially difficult, even in the best of times. Add to that the stresses created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the level of angst and anxiety among teens is amped up even further.

Well aware that many teens were struggling with mental health issues and, moreover, that they did not feel comfortable sharing their experiences with others, BCHA Upper School Principal Rabbi Shimmy Trencher, School Counselor Angela Wilson and Special Programs Coordinator Ilana Bauman put their heads together and came up with an idea to give a voice to these students—and others like them—by bringing mental health awareness to the entire student body.

On Thursday, Jan. 21, BCHA Upper School hosted an all-day school-wide Mental Health Day program, designed, planned and coordinated by a group of students, with the guidance of Wilson, Bauman and Rabbi Trencher.

“The day began as a way to bring mental awareness to our school community and open up the conversation regarding mental health,” explained Wilson. “We had four outside speakers, a presentation by our principal and an activity by our school counselor. The student committee consisted of five students who all took the lead on different activities. They decided on two student panels and fun activities to break up the day.”

The day began with a keynote presentation by Marc Fein, who has spent 15 years in experiential Jewish education and has run programs for thousands of teens and educators. Fein shared with the BCHA teens his own experience living with depression and presented an amusing and insightful perspective on what it means to live with a mental illness and how the teens can best support one another.

“Marc Fein was honest and open with us. He really set the tone for the day and inspired people to share their own experiences,” said junior Shira Haron.

Other speakers included Eli Weinstein, LMSW, a licensed social worker who created ELIvation, a program to help those struggling add some extra inspiration and motivation into everyday life; Temimah Zucker, LCSW, who specializes in working with those suffering from eating disorders, disordered eating, body image dissatisfaction and other mental health diagnoses; Rabbi Chagie Rubin, a long-time Jewish educator who is also an expert on superheroes and comic books, and two BCHA students who spoke about their own experiences with mental health.

“It was difficult talking about personal experiences, but we did a great job creating a safe space for the discussions and to support each other,” said senior Danielle Hadge, who led a panel discussion on anxiety and was a member of the Mental Health Day Committee, along with Izzy Kanefsky, Jaime Zaritsky, Josh Schulman and Menucha Goldberg, a sophomore who also led a panel discussion on body dysmorphia.

Senior Ally Hadge noted, “In addition to helping us, it also helped us to bond with each other and bring students closer together.” she said.

Bauman shared, “I am incredibly grateful and in awe of our school for creating a space that fosters student authenticity, love and growth, and I am even prouder of our students for diving into that environment head on, allowing themselves to be a part of that conversation and contributing to building that space together,” she said. “The way that people trusted each other with vulnerable and real aspects of their identity, and the support and validation that was given and received by students and teachers was just awe-inspiring.

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