“The last year has been hard for everyone,” says Andy Rosenau, guidance director at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills. While adults can draw on past experiences for coping skills, “young people haven’t necessarily had those same experiences and, as a result, have been impacted to a greater extent by the pandemic. All schools, sooner or later, will have to address the mental health impact, so we wanted to be proactive,” Rosenau explains.
At the beginning of the school year, student leaders and school leadership met and agreed to bring a resiliency training program to the entire student body. “Much of the credit goes to our National Honor Society [student] officers—Lydia Buxa, Julia Neuberger, Kaylee Raymond, and Devin Splinter—who saw the need for conversations about resiliency. They played major roles in making it happen,” says Rosenau, who also serves as the NHS advisor.
As the school administration searched but couldn’t find a program created for high school students, so they reached out to Milwaukee-based Christian Family Solutions (CFS). Licensed professional counselor Karen Fischer there had created the Cornerstone Resilience System, a curriculum geared for adults, and was more than happy to customize it for teens. “There is an anxiety epidemic among those under age 25, and they need to learn to manage this better,” Fischer says. “The sooner they have tools, the more ingrained useful thought patterns can be.”
Lakeside student leaders were excited to be on the leading edge of what’s now recognized statewide as a critical issue for students and school staff who have dealt with unpredictable and fluid learning environments. In January, the Wisconsin DPI introduced a “Wisconsin School Mental Health Framework” that seeks to address needs in schools. “We are the first high school in the nation to partner with Cornerstone, which is a neat distinction,” says senior Lydia Buxa, NHS president. “With our successful experience, we look to encourage other schools to participate because it really made a difference for a lot of us who sometimes struggle with these issues.”
The six modules comprising the Cornerstone curriculum address resilience, crisis survival, reality acceptance, mindfulness, emotion control, and thought distortion. The school scheduled six days over four months to host the sessions. After an introductory all-school assembly at the start of each session day, three counselors then met with students in a designated class. The smaller group interactions allowed presenters to equip teens with specific tools and strategies to develop resilience and decrease stress and anxiety.
Many teens at Lakeside looked forward to the information that was outside their typical curriculum scope but so applicable to life in high school today. “One of the coolest things about the resiliency training was that the modules covered a variety of topics,” says senior Kaylee Raymond, NHS vice-president. “This allowed students to relate to them in a different way.”
The feedback has been positive.“The school has become more open to talking and discussing topics that relate to mental wellness,” says NHS treasurer Julia Neuberger. The discussions carried over to home life too. “Parents have already shared many personal stories of ways the training has affected them and helped their families discuss difficulties,” Fischer said.
While the six Cornerstone modules have been completed, the school plans to continue discussing mental wellness. “The program is customizable, so we are now talking about taking targeted approaches,” Fischer says. “Maybe we provide mental wellness screening for freshmen or we create opportunities for seniors to learn more about adjusting to life after high school.”
Lakeside senior Devin Splinter appreciates being part of all the time and effort that went into planning, and how successful it’s been. “As an NHS officer, I am responsible for helping our student body—and a huge problem that students face is stress and damage to their mental health. We have learned about techniques and strategies to face stress,” he said. “Having this resiliency training was a huge success and something that I recommend other schools do.”