Yesterday, a group of five high school students at Foundation Academies – a high-performing public charter school network in Trenton – were honored by the National Youth Leadership Council with the Youth Leadership for Service-Learning Excellence Award for their first-of-its-kind community initiative to destigmatize mental health and raise awareness of resources.
Foundation Academies is the largest and highest-ranking K-12 free public charter school in Trenton, serving 1,000 students across two campuses and doing it at $7,317 less per pupil than Trenton City Public Schools. One hundred percent of its students are accepted at college.
The students– Tracy Barrientos, Joscelynn Bernal, Nina Brown, Nomy Yanes-Castro, and Fabienne Traversiere – are all juniors at Foundation Academy Collegiate. They submitted a video for the contest that portrayed their initiative they call “Mental Illness Needs to be Destigmatized,” or “M.I.N.D.” and were the sole winner in the category nationwide.
M.I.N.D. members began conducting research into mental health as part of a school service project to rectify the lack of attention being paid to the subject within the wider community. After attending Mental Health First Aid courses, the students hosted two virtual resource fairs for 20 participants to raise awareness and encourage people to express their emotions.
“We’re honored and feel very blessed to receive this award,” said Yanes-Castro, one of the students behind M.I.N.D. “Creating M.I.N.D is an experience I will always remember because of the impact it has had on our community. We wanted to shed light on the issue of mental health so that people in our community aren’t struggling in the dark. This recognition is a testament to the importance of our mission, and we’re excited to continue helping more of our peers share their emotions and start an open conversation about mental health.”
“We could not be prouder of our students involved in M.I.N.D., not just for this important recognition but also for the critical work they are doing to better their community,” said Colleen DiDonato, an English & Civic Service Learning Teacher at Foundation Academies. “They embody the very best of our school and our commitment to the communities we serve. We’re thrilled that their work around such an important topic will positively impact the lives of students and families across Trenton and are excited to see what they do next.”
Foundation Academies was awarded $1,000 for its youth service program as part of the honor. This spring, M.I.N.D. will run a Mental Health Awareness Week at the school where students will partake in discussions and activities to understand their own mental health and how to promote it.
The school’s dedicated teachers and scholars are proving that all children, irrespective of race, gender, or socioeconomic background can succeed at a great public school.