The Family Council of Utah, a statewide family and youth advocacy group, recognized three people from Lehi Junior High with an award on Wednesday, February 13. Principal Kevin Thomas, Mrs. Laura Gallagher, a counselor at LJHS, and Stacy Bateman, LJHS PTA President, were honored for their efforts to bring awareness to mental health challenges their students face each day.
“The effort you have made to assist your students is truly inspiring. You have taken the initiative to make sure these challenges our children face are recognized, talked about and not criticized. This is so needed in our educational system. Hopefully, more Utah schools will follow your lead,” read the certificates presented to Thomas, Gallagher, and Bateman.
The administration, teachers, staff and PTA have created programs and events at LJHS to emphasize connection and emotional health in their students. They have Pizza with the Principal each week where a group of students is invited to eat lunch with Principal Thomas and talk about whatever is on their minds. “Principal Thomas told me he wanted to know every student’s name and I thought that was impossible, but this is one of the ways we’re trying to help him do that,” said Bateman.
LJHS has several other programs in place. They have a “Lunch Bunch,” where a group of struggling students is able to come and get support with academics during lunch time from adult and student aides. They have an Anxiety Room where students can go to “reset” during the day instead of going home. There are groups who meet during flex time to talk about tools they can use when they are feeling anxious. Principal Thomas has a “Principal’s Pantry” full of food items for students and families in need. The school has sponsored Mental Health Awareness evenings and holds classes that began in January 2019. Bateman introduced the Good Human Awards toward the end of 2018 to recognize students who were showing kindness when they thought no one was watching.
“I work with a lot of kids who go to a lot of schools and what they’re doing at Lehi Junior High is unheard of,” said Alicia Wilcox, a member of The Family Council of Utah. “The shift occurred when Principal Thomas came on and started pushing that connection with the kids. It’s about the kids and they can feel it.”
“Unless kids know you care about them as a human, they won’t be willing to give you anything else,” explained Bateman. “The same goes for parents. When they know we care about their kids on a human level, they’re much more willing to work with us.”
“In talking with students from Lehi Junior, they have noticed the adults at the school listen to them – they’re not like ‘normal’ adults. They brainstorm ideas with the students to solve problems and the kids really appreciate that. Lehi Junior High is doing amazing things for the students at their school,” said Wilcox.