Step Forward’s Teen Advisory Committee (TAC) is a regional, student-led group that aims to improve local policy decision-making and programming that impacts teens and young adults in North Louisiana. Each year, TAC surveys high school students to better understand the mental wellness of students in Northwest Louisiana. The survey is voluntary and completely confidential. Data from the survey is presented at the Northwest Louisiana (NWLA) Teen Summit on Mental Wellness.
On Tuesday May 17, 2022, TAC presented the 3rd Annual Northwest Louisiana (NWLA) Teen Summit on Mental Wellness, “Resilience, Social Emotional Learning and the Student”, at Louisiana State University Shreveport. The Summit is a student and community expert forum that allows students to share their perspectives about mental wellness needs, specifically within the current educational environment. This year, students from Caddo and Bossier gathered to learn the effects of trauma on the brain, how to build resilience, and use Social Emotional Learning as a tool to help advance student mental health performance and policy change in today’s education system.
Andrew Minagar, a student at Caddo Magnet High, presented the results of the student survey on mental wellness. Survey results indicated mental wellness worsened when students started online learning required during the pandemic. Students discussed the challenges of online learning. “There’s something about not being physically in front of a person for a long period of time that is challenging and hard on mental wellness,” TAC Member Raj Letchuman. The survey also demonstrated students most often choose not to talk to someone about their struggles because they do not want to bother others with their problems. The group discussed solutions to the mental health challenges they face. One solution identified is the necessity for students to find a trusted person to talk to about mental wellness challenges they face. TAC students determined this person could be a school counselor, parent, or friend. Other solutions students would like to see are signs and banners in their schools to bring awareness to mental wellness.
Carla Burgos, Director of Special Initiatives at Community Foundation, presented the Adverse Child Effect (ACE) Core Talk. She explained how the brain adapts based on experience. “Adversity early in life can create physical and mental challenges later in life,” Burgos said. Conversely, early education is critical for children ages 0-3 because 90% of brain development occurs before children reaches the age of 5. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, a child’s experiences during the earliest years of life have a lasting impact on the architecture of the developing brain.
Renata Mahoney, Supervisor of Counseling for Caddo Schools, spoke about Resilience and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). She emphasized SEL as an integral part of education and human development. Students learned how to build resilience from the challenges they face. Some practical tips to build resilience include: building connections with other people, reaching out to others by joining community-based groups in your area, and maintaining a positive outlook when you fail at something.
In closing, TAC President, Jazzlynn Temple, invited students to become TAC members. As a member, students will attend and participate in TAC meetings to problem solve and implement programs that will help students in North Louisiana succeed.