Across the county, students are facing mounting challenges as they do their best to balance schoolwork and everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Porterville High School, seniors Aaron Morales and Vincent Montalvo want their classmates to know they’re not alone and help is available.
“We want to make sure that our students have the esteem and dignity to continue forward,” Morales said. “That they don’t view themselves in this present moment as their true self. That they have the potential to go forward and be leaders in the community and actually help other people.”
Morales and Montalvo are members of the Porterville Academy of Health Sciences (PAHS) Pathway and will be hosting a virtual conference for PAHS students Wednesday morning on Zoom. The assembly is focused on students’ mental health and will feature motivational speakers from TEEN TRUTH.
“It’s going to cover several topics,” Morales said. “The most pressing, of course, is going to be mental health, but we’re going to discuss different aspects of that.”
One of the conference’s main goals is to let students know they can trust each other and their teachers. They also want to remind students of resources available to improve their mental health.
“Resources, of course, are important, but we also want to encourage our students’ selfesteem,” Morales said. “That they can trust their teachers, that they can trust each other. That we can build a culture that values one another, that treats one another with compassion and respect, that actually cares and addresses mental health and illnesses.”
Another focus is building a connection with the underclassmen, especially the freshmen. “Something we were thinking about is, especially the freshman, they probably know no other upper-class students because obviously there’s no more being on campus, being in classes with them,” Montalvo said. “So they’re probably feeling particularly alone. So that’s something we wanted to work on.”
PAHS lead, Carrie Gonzalez, said she and others at Porterville are proud of Morales and Montalvo for taking this initiative and put into action what they’ve learned as PAHS students.
“Again, I just want to say that I’m exceptionally proud,” Gonzalez said. “My entire team, our administration, our principal are proud of Vincent and Aaron for really putting into practice all of our theory of helping others and putting to work our theme in the academy, which is ‘Always on Duty.’”
Morales and Montalvo got the idea to host the conference after being inspired by TEEN TRUTH at a leadership summit for Porterville Unified School District Pathway Ambassadors. Both serve as PAHS ambassadors on top of other responsibilities. Montalvo is president of the PAHS Student Council, and Morales is the student representative for the PAHS Advisory Board.
At the leadership summit, students talked about anxiety, isolation, and being disconnected from each other.
“We discussed how it wasn’t just the pressures of being high school (students) but the pressures to perform diligently and how we felt our worth was equivalent to our grade, which is not the truth,” Morales said.
In talking with TEEN TRUTH president and CEO, J.C. Pohl, they were encouraged to find their voices to help themselves and others.
“He kind of talked to us about what it means to be a leader and how it’s more important now, more than ever, to empower our voices as students and try to raise up our peers with us,” Montalvo said. “Especially as students who have positions of power within our pathway and influence.”
TEEN TRUTH started in 2006 when Pohl and other filmmakers gave a group of students cameras to film an entire school year of discussions about bullying and why they believed something like the 1999 Columbine High School massacre could happen.
The film became one of the top-selling, antibullying movies. According to Pohl, it, along with other ones — about drugs and alcohol, body image and self-esteem, parenting, and family communications — are used in more than 7,000 schools worldwide.
“We try to create a positive experience for kids and just remind them how important it is for them to talk about what they’re going through, and to create a culture on campus where people can build relationships where they feel they can share their lives,” Pohl said.
On Wednesday, TEEN TRUTH and PAHS will again create a discussion that puts the power for change in students’ hands.
“Just like our films, it’s, ‘What can you do? What do you want to see happen? It’s your school,’” Pohl said. “And so that will kind of be the work that we do in the summit is challenging them to come up with solutions to help with social and emotional issues.”
Following the virtual conference, PAHS students will have another opportunity to collaborate with TEEN TRUTH through a leadership summit. That summit will be in March.
For more information on TEEN TRUTH, visit teentruth.net.