Sherando DECA students place first in contest

By Josette Keelor

The Sherando High School DECA club has won first place in a national mental health contest organized by Creating Community Solutions and the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

For the Text, Talk, Act program, Sherando high school students held conversations on Oct. 6, following meetings in July with organizers of the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley’s Community Impact Forum, which focused on mental health awareness.

The contest was designed to encourage people around the country, including youth, to hold conversations on mental health and asked participants to text in answers to questions, said Sherando marketing teacher Deborah Carper.

“I think they were able to answer those questions based on [their] own personal experiences and perceptions,” she said.

Organizing the event at Sherando were seniors Lauren Robertson, Tiffani Warren and Kaitlin Rusch, who will use their findings as part of a report they plan to present on the topic “erasing the stigma” at the DECA state competition in Virginia Beach in March.

The campaign will focus on ways of encouraging a community conversation on mental health and explain what they learned from the Text, Talk, Act project, said 17-year-old Lauren of Stephens City.

“We learned that mental health isn’t an issue that people really talk about and feel very comfortable with around here,” she said.

To build interest in the Oct. 6 Text, Talk, Act Day, DECA club members designed flyers and posted announcements on smart boards in each classroom at Sherando. The club also made promotion cards, which they handed out to other students in marketing classes.

Lauren and her team met after school for about 30 or 45 minutes to text in responses for Text, Talk, Act. Other group members met during their marketing classes or logged into the program from home using the school’s access code.

Questions started with statistics, she said, and built into more personal questions that she and other members discussed among themselves. After talking, they only texted in saying they completed the discussion.

In the beginning, she said, her classmates were kind of cautious discussing their own experiences with topics on mental health, but as the questions continued they became more comfortable.

Lauren guessed about 30 students participated in Text, Talk, Act, and Carper said she thinks their numbers boosted the DECA club to its national win. Other winning high schools were Essex High School in Essex, Vermont, and Saydel High School in Des Moines, Iowa.

By including area high school students in the national discussion on mental health, Carper said, Creating Community Solutions and the National Institute for Civil Discourse can gain a better idea of how to help address mental health concerns around the country.

“I think they all are getting a lot out of it,” Carper said.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the DECA club will host a mental health fair at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester in front of JC Penney to highlight programs and share information on mental health services. Area residents and students are encouraged to attend.

Visitors will receive information on accessing the community’s mental health resources, like the United Way and Concern Hotline. A bake sale, bracelet-making station for children and Plinko-style game with prizes will be hosted by Sherando clubs.

“We’re trying to be different and not just have the typical agency fair,” Lauren said.

For more information on Text, Talk, Act, contact the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley at 540-536-1610 or at uway@visuallink.com.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com