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This year’s Wellness Day featured stories from former addicts, tools to recognize and prevent dating abuse from a local agency that works with victims of domestic violence, and ways to help LGBTQA+ students feel safe—suggested by those students.
Identifying these specific facets of wellness is part of an overall focus on activities that foster a positive school culture.
In planning for this year's Wellness Day, John Jay’s Dignity for All Students (DASA) and No Place for Hate committees held a forum to find out what kind of workshops students were interested in. Young presenters with life experiences to share topped the list.
Assistant Principal Kim Piccolino, English teacher Vicky Weiss, social workers Pat Bragdon and Kiri Ryan, and guidance counselor Malerie Simon helped program the student-led direction of Wellness Day 2018.
To continue addressing the swastikas found at John Jay High School in 2017, Weiss signed a keynote speaker that would jar students out of a bystander mindset: Frank Meeink, author of "Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead."
Students listened raptly as Frank Meeink talked, rapid-fire, about his life. He grew up ashamed of being on food stamps, abused by his stepfather, and afraid of the other students in his all-black school.
A trip to visit an older cousin introduced him to skinheads.
“Being a skinhead is not about ideology," said Meeink. "It’s about belonging.”
By age 18, Meeink was roaming the country as a neo-Nazi recruiter. He tattooed a swastika on his neck and hosted a TV show called “The Reich.”
In prison — convicted of kidnapping and beating a member of a rival skinhead gang — he befriended men he once hated. Slowly, his world view — and life — changed. His best friend in prison was a young black man. When Meeink was released from prison, a Jewish man gave him a job. Today he travels the country speaking about tolerance.
John Jay's auditorium was absolutely silent after Stephen Hill's opening video. In it, his brothers and parents speak about the anguish caused by his transformation from a stellar athlete and good student to an opioid addict and drug dealer with a police record.
“I have three successful brothers. We did everything exactly the same way,” said Hill. “Why did I become an addict? I was born with the disease of addiction. I always progress to more.”
Hill had already been in and out of rehab programs his doctor prescribed OxyContin for the pain when he broke his femur.
“That drug will take you down very quickly,” said Hill.
He hit rock bottom and entered a year-long treatment program in 2012. Slowly but surely, Hill began to put his life back together. He is now in law school and shares his journey to sobriety with high school students.
Five students from SAGA (Straight and Gay Alliance) shared their stories of coming out, not identifying as a binary gender, and how it feels to hide their true identities. They ended their presentation with recommendations to support LGBTQA+ people and help them feel safe, including:
LGBTQA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Asexual. The + alludes to other sexual orientations.
My Sister’s Place in conjunction with the English Department conducted workshops on what healthy friendships and romantic relationships look like.
Danielle, an educator with the Westchester-based domestic abuse agency , highlighted the various kinds of abuse that were most prevalent in teen relationships. The students discussed positive ways to help a friend or themselves.
The Art Department ran workshops designing Kindness Rocks--drawing designs on palm-sized stones that communicate community/unity, kindness, and hopefulness.
“Enjoy your moment of calm,” the students were encouraged.