First published in the April 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes mental health is a growing problem among adolescents, and the trends associated with it were only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced schools across the state to shut down and pivot to distance learning for nearly a year.
As the country continues to adapt to living in a world with the coronavirus, many students and educators are still feeling the effects of remote instruction, and John Muir Middle School is doing its part to address the issue by organizing “Muir Empowered” on Thursday.
It’s an all-day conference, featuring up to 27 presenters, aimed at helping students be more proactive about their mental health and wellness.
“Kids have to deal with a lot of stress and anxiety. There are kids who are depressed,” said Greg Miller, principal at Muir. “There’s just a lot these days and we just felt it important to devote at least a day to equip our kids. We just thought it was really important coming out of the pandemic.”
The event will feature speakers Jessie Funk, a renowned singer and author who has been mentoring students for more than a decade, and Ernie G, an empowerment speaker, comedian and former national spokesperson for the Hispanic College Fund.
Rather than attending classes, Muir students will go to workshops and hear from anti-vaping speaker Robb Holladay, from the Burbank Family Services Agency, yoga instructors, mental health experts and therapists.
They will also hear from representatives from Remo, a company that supplies drumheads and has an initiative promoting individual and family wellness through drumming. A representative from Love on 4 Paws will also be on site with dogs to promote animal-assisted therapy.
“We kind of want to show that there’s different ways to address your mental health outside of talking to a therapist, which is also great,” Miller said. “Part of having therapists coming is to demystify therapy because a lot of kids and families have this issue thinking, ‘Oh, you must be crazy to go to a therapist,’ and that’s the last thing we want them to think.”
Administrators began organizing the event last October and were determined to make it an in-person conference. Miller said it could have been a virtual event, but school officials felt there was “more power in kids being in that space” with the speaker.
“We were dealing with a lot of mental health issues with kids who were at home, feeling isolated and lonely. So, we put together this year’s [event] to be bigger than the previous one,” he said.
Muir has hosted similar conferences in the past. The first was in 2017, called “Muir United,” and focused on acceptance and tolerance with survivors from the Holocaust and Special Olympics athletes speaking to the students, and the first “Muir Empowered” was organized two years later.
“Our goal is to do this every three years,” Miller said. “The idea is that when a kid goes through Muir, they’re going to, sometime during their three years, go through a ‘Muir Empowered’ and another year go through a ‘Muir United.’ So that three-year cycle really serves us well [to connect with] all students who come through Muir.”
Parents will have the opportunity to join the event at 6 p.m. to view a screening of “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety,” a 56-minute documentary that explores the sociological effects of anxiety and features Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps.
Miller is hopeful that the event will have an effect on Muir families and help them moving forward.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know that it’s going to dramatically change every kid’s life,” he said, “but it’s definitely going to change the lives of our kids in some way for the positive, and that’s what we’re shooting for.”