Sponsored by Cranbrook Schools
Photography by Derrick Martinez
By Andrea Walker-Leidy
With a longstanding reputation for academic excellence as a world-renowned preparatory school, Cranbrook School is leading the way for mental health awareness by developing a mindset of overall wellness and well-being for its students.
The Cranbrook Schools Wellness Team is dedicated to integrating wellness practices into each student’s social development as a part of an effort to care for the “whole child.”
The team is currently comprised of campus leaders, learning consultants and mental health professionals. Director of Wellness Karen Gomez and Director of Multicultural Affairs Carla Young play influential roles.
As a part of its efforts, Cranbrook’s Director of Stewardship Charles Shaw began looking into a peer-led program formed at Harvard Westlake School in California. Following the Harvard Westlake model as a guide, Cranbrook launched its Peer 2 Peer program more than three years ago with the assistance and guidance of experts at Harvard Westlake School and University of Michigan.
“We began looking at one of the first-ever student-led peer programs developed at Harvard Westlake about five years ago because we knew we had to continue to expand mental and social health focus for Cranbrook students,” says Dr. Michael Young, Ph.D. clinical psychologist and mental health consultant at Cranbrook. “We then visited the Wolverine Support Network at U of M to see and hear from students who were working talk more openly about mental health issues and normalize those conversations on the campus.”
Harvard Westlake and University of Michigan’s programs became a framework, allowing Cranbrook’s team to create its program designed to empower students as advocates for peer-to-peer support systems.
Each September, Cranbrook trains a team of student leaders to take the helm of the Peer 2 Peer groups, giving them tools they need to offer a safe environment for students to share with one another. These leaders come from diverse backgrounds.
“We take about 24 students on a retreat each September to train them on active listening, group facilitation and how to reassure and lead conversations without offering counseling or advice,” Young says. “Students loving having a place to go and just talk. We provide training and pizza. The students are taking the lead from there and really opening up to support each other.”
Cranbrook holds weekly meetings that facilitate confidential, peer-led conversations open to including emotional and mental health issues. All Upper School students are eligible to attend and connect with other students.
Peer 2 Peer groups carry out the mission of Cranbrook’s Wellness Team to normalize mental health conversations across all students by allowing for an inclusive environment that allow them to talk freely without teachers or parents present.
During the school year, 40-50 students gather to meet in these student-led small groups.
“Cranbrook Schools is truly committed to caring for the whole student,” Gomez says. “The Peer 2 Peer program is an essential part of our Wellness Initiative. Giving students an outstanding education is no longer enough – we need to be the best place for them to grow emotionally, academically, spiritually, vocationally and physically.”
Gomez joined the Cranbrook team in August after spending much of her career in social work, student development and education. Her belief is that if an educational environment is caring for the whole person, learning will happen naturally and safely.
Combining a strategic wellness approach with the high standard of education held at Cranbrook, the school is now aligned to truly prepare students for college, career and life.
Health and wellness are being embedded into the everyday learning structure of the school.
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