County school system hosts student mental health and wellness fair

May 12 – CUMBERLAND, Maryland – Austin Hedrich nibbled on a piece of dark chocolate and closed his eyes to describe the experience.

Although it wasn’t necessarily his way of eating candy, he chose his words carefully.

“It’s creamy,” he said.

Austin, who said he was celebrating his 12th birthday, learned about mindful eating at a booth hosted by Theresa Yosuico Stahl, registered dietician nutritionist and consultant.

Her table was among several information booths that lined the entrance hallway of Allegany High School for a student mental health and wellness fair on Wednesday night.

The event, hosted by Allegany County Public Schools, was organized to share with students ways to take care of their emotional, social and physical well-being.

It featured community organizations, including local YMCA, Aetna and Potomac case management services, and various raffles for students in attendance.

Wendy Ryan, a life and earth sciences teacher at Braddock Middle School, said the event allowed students to focus more on mental health than what can be discussed during class time.

“Opportunities in after-school (programs) give them more time to learn new skills,” she said.

Ray Short, Braddock’s after-school program coordinator, said about 70 middle schoolers attended the fair.

Although students received awards at many booths, “they need to stop and listen,” he said of the mental health-focused lessons and resources.

Sarah Welsh, mental health coordinator for CASP, said event organizers were pleased with the turnout.

“We are thrilled that so many community partners can be here,” she said.

Catie Brenneman, coordinator of the Healing Allegany program at AHEC West, was at the fair to promote the organization’s various healthcare-focused services.

“We send the general feel-good message,” she said.

Shannon Bridges was at the event with her children Bryce and Kaylee.

“It’s nice to see all the services available,” Bridges said.

Jim Hott, Western Region Specialist for the Maryland Center for School Safety, was at the fair to promote the state’s anonymous safe schools tip line at 1-833-MD-B-SAFE, website and app used to report threats to the safety or well-being of students.

“It’s important that (kids) know they can have someone they trust” to talk to, he said.

Teresa McMinn is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or [email protected]

Jeremy S. McLain