A mental-health effort sparked by actress Mariel Hemingway's Jefferson Series lecture last year is getting off the ground in the New Albany-Plain Local School District.

A mental-health effort sparked by actress Mariel Hemingway's Jefferson Series lecture last year is getting off the ground in the New Albany-Plain Local School District.

The district has planned three new programs for sixth-graders, eighth-graders and high school students with a three-year cost of $29,700, which will be funded in full by the New Albany Community Foundation. The programming comes from an initiative announced in October 2015 dubbed "the Mariel Hemingway Project," which was described at the time as a means to improve mental-health services in schools and the community.

The programming lines up with one of the district's core focus areas: social and emotional learning.

Assistant Superintendent Marilyn Troyer said social and emotional learning is necessary for students to achieve academically and grow into well-adjusted adults.

"I think more and more, we're seeing stress in our students, and we're seeing that at younger and younger grade levels for a whole variety of reasons," she said.

The programming builds on mental-health support already present within the district, which includes nine school counselors, three mental-health specialists and two prevention specialists from Concord Counseling Services. The Concord Counseling Servicesspecialists are funded by a grant from the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County.

Brandy Smith, one of the two Concord Counseling Servicesemployees, works with middle school and high school students. She said peer and social issues can be stressors for middle school students. Academics also can be a source of stress, especially for sixth-graders transitioning from elementary school to middle school.

High school students generally deal with academic stress, Smith said, especially from performance pressure they put on themselves. If they don't meet their own goals, the anxiety could be followed by depression.

Such feelings of anxiety and depression are not uncommon.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said it provides services to 10,447 Franklin County children ages 10 to 14. Of that number, 1,223, or nearly 12 percent, received services for an anxiety disorder diagnosis from the public behavioral-health system in fiscal 2015. The number of Franklin County children receiving services for depressive disorders was 2,053, or nearly 20 percent of total children served in fiscal year 2015.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2015 report, 29.9 percent of students nationwide reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row that they ended some usual activities.

Anxiety also can affect preteens. Eleven years old is the median age for a child to experience an anxiety disorder, said ADAMH of Franklin County Youth and Families Manager Mitzi Moody, citing information from the Mental Health First Aid curriculum, a product of the National Council for Behavioral Health.

ADAMH provides mental-health funding to 15 school districts in Franklin County, Moody said. Although students in Franklin County could face different mental-health challenges depending upon their location, she said, she has consistently heard from school districts about mental-health issues, including anxiety, depression, bullying and trauma.

Some districts have found the need for programs to help elementary students cope with anxiety, she said.

For New Albany-Plain Local, stress management is part of the focus of the programming for sixth- and eighth-graders at the middle school.

Program details

The program for sixth-graders is Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment, or COPE, for short, and was developed at the Ohio State University and implemented in other school districts, Troyer said.

Middle school assistant principal Elizabeth Gonda said the program was scheduled to begin Nov. 1 and would end at winter break. All sixth-grade teachers are going through training for the program and will teach the curriculum during students' study-center time seven Tuesdays in a row.

The curriculum focuses on topics that include self-esteem, positive thinking, stress management, setting goals and coping skills, Gonda said. Teachers plan to give students activities to do following winter break to extend their learning beyond the curriculum's conclusion.

Troyer said sixth-graders need to learn how to set goals, and the COPE program could give them a good set of foundational skills.

"That transition from elementary to middle school, for a variety of reasons, is challenging to kids," she said.

Eighth-graders who take a wellness class -- not all of them do -- will receive a COPING 10.1 program as part of the curriculum, Troyer said.

Out of 379 eighth-graders, 231 are taking wellness this academic year, Gonda said.

The district plans to begin COPING in January to fit in best with the wellness class curriculum, Smith said.

Developed by Bowling Green State University and first implemented in Wood County, COPING includes 12 sessions, Smith said. The first five cover sources of stress, stress management and healthy decision-making, while the later sessions focus on specific traumatic stressors, including poverty, grief and loss, and dealing with a parent's substance abuse or mental illness.

The high school mental-health program, Sources of Strength, has no firm start date and isn't based on a specific curriculum, Troyer said.

"This is a really different approach," she said.

Rather than listening to a teacher in a class, high school students will be chosen as peer leaders and work with a network of teachers and administrators to create messaging and activities, Troyer said. The framework revolves around suicide prevention by focusing on positive values, such as forming positive relationships with adults and students for support.

Funding

The New Albany Community Foundation will provide funding for all three programs for the first three years, according to New Albany-Plain Local spokesman Patrick Gallaway. After that, the district will evaluate the programming to determine next steps. The three programs cost $14,500 for the first year, and $7,600 each for years two and three.

Craig Mohre, president of the New Albany Community Foundation, said the New Albany-based Rocky Fork Co. made the donation to support mental-health programming. Company founder and president Brian Bailey approached Mohre after the Mariel Hemingway event to discuss the donation.

The goal of bringing Hemingway to New Albany was to start a community dialogue and lift the stigma surrounding behavioral and mental health, Mohre said. The second step is to provide resources so people know where to go for help, he said.

"And that's what these programs are trying to do," Mohre said.

Bailey said he came to Mohre after the Hemingway event to learn more about an initiative that was at that time referred to as "the Mariel Hemingway Project."

"Really, it was wide open at that point," he said.

Bailey said he wants the programming the district selected to help students realize the things they say on social media or in person matters. One of the parameters of his decision, he said, was that the district choose programs that could have measurable outcomes.

Hemingway, granddaughter of author Ernest Hemingway, discussed suicide and mental illness in her family in the 2013 documentary "Running From Crazy." She also wrote a book, "Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction and Suicide in My Family."

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