By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Oxford’s high schoolers had a special summer send-off on May 27.
OHS staff presented a live, virtual mental health fair to launch the school’s new mental health initiative and suicide prevention website called, “OHS Connects.”
The interactive website is designed to address the mental, physical and social health of teenagers, as well as help students remain connected to staff despite social distancing and school closures. OHS Connects has resources, videos, art therapy, and interactive challenges for Oxford High School students, staff, and community members.
The live event streamed on the website featured a talk with Dr. Andrea Wittenborn, a licensed therapist and associate professor of human development and human studies at Michigan State University.
Wittenborn is well-acquainted with Oxford, since she did a research study in 2017 on the impact of 13 Reasons Why Not, the high school’s nationally recognized suicide prevention project. Upon completing the study, she shared the results at mental health conferences around the country with two OHS alumni.
“I’ve really enjoyed staying connected with Oxford over the years and you all hold a special place in my heart,” she said.
Wittenborn spoke to students and answered questions about anxiety, depression and issues related to COVID-19.
“Some of you may be experiencing some symptoms of anxiety, or sadness, or even some fear or loneliness,” she said. “The conditions that we’re living in right now can create or even worsen these and other types of mental health symptoms. So, this is a really important time to focus on our mental and physical health.”
She shared a list of ten coping strategies, that partially included things like developing a daily routine, staying connected to friends and family, exercise and getting outside.
“Hearing a list of ten tips like what I’ve just shared can be overwhelming,” Wittenborn acknowledged. “We are living through unusual times and even on our best days, it may not be possible to do all of these things. So it can be helpful to set reasonable goals and prioritize what’s important to you.”
She recommends starting small by finding one thing to relieve stress. “Taking that one small step can really help us to establish a new healthy habit and pave the way for focusing more on ourselves and our health in the future.”
During this crisis, it can be hard to recognize what emotions or behaviors are normal and what are not. “It’s normal for us to feel stressed, anxious or down from time to time, given the circumstances. . . But, if it lasts for a couple weeks and despite your best attempts to cope, it feels like it’s worsening, make sure to reach out to a trusted adult.”
She also recommends checking out the resources on the OHS Connects website, which include crisis hotlines.
Physical health is just as important as mental health. Celebrity trainer Alex Fine joined live from Los Angeles, leading members of Oxford’s staff in his 6 minute ab challenge. A 2011 Orion High School graduate, Fine trains NFL players like Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., and the cast of the television show Riverdale.
Head Varsity Football Coach, Zach Line joined the staff for the challenge in the school’s library. The challenge consisted of on-the-floor abdominal exercises: “suitcases,” leg lifts, sit-ups, V-ups and Russian twists.
And, just for fun, five students competed in a ‘Nailed It Challenge’ where they baked and decorated a cookie of one of five administrators. The students had just 40 minutes to make the cookies. Students voted for the best cookie likeness on the OHS Connects website.
Senior Finn Murray nailed it with his cookie of Athletic Director Jordan Ackerman, which got 56.1 percent of the vote. “I think this is a masterpiece,” Murray said.
There will be new weekly challenges to stay engaged throughout the summer.
“I think it was an awesome event,” Principal Steven Wolf told the students before signing off. “We want you guys to know that OHS Connects is a way to stay engaged with us and to stay in communication with us. That way we know we can check on your mental health, your wellbeing, and that’s just as important to us as anything else in school, even beyond the grades.”
Wolf rolled through the halls of the deserted school on a scooter, switching off the lights and closing the doors for the summer.
“We can’t wait to see you guys in August,” he said. “It’s going to be an awesome school year.”
OHS Connects can be found at sites.google.com/oxfordschools.org/ohsconnects/home.
Here is the complete 10-point list.
1. Develop a daily routine.
2. Connect with friends and family.
3. Establish a good sleep pattern.
5. Go outside.
6. Focus on what you can control instead of what you can’t.
7. Find ways to stay in the present.
8. Limit your time on social media and watching the news.
9. Do something to help others.
10. Stay busy.