The Community Problem Solver project "Thinking Out Loud" aims to create mental health discussions in schools.
What do you love about yourself? Describe yourself in one word. What do you love to do?
These are some topics Flagler Palm Coast High School senior Valerie Diaz encouraged a classroom full of Bunnell Elementary School sixth-graders to answer on sheets of paper on Friday, Jan. 18.
Diaz is “Thinking Out Loud” with students around Flagler Schools, through her Community Problem Solvers project, which creates conversations about mental health. She’s done 12 presentations so far and hopes to visit more classrooms soon.
“My freshman year, I had a couple knee surgeries and I was in a wheelchair, and I couldn’t really go out and do things with my friends, and I couldn’t even go to school,” she said. “So, that kind of took a toll on my mental health, and I started realizing that more kids could learn about it.”
Diaz created this CmPS project her junior year to help stimulate mental health conversations at a younger age, rather than wait for Freshman Success classes, she said.
Thinking back to her own seventh- and eighth-grade years, Diaz said she had anxiety and was bullied into depression. During her presentation, she shared the history of her mental health, as well as a PowerPoint slideshow that encouraged the BES students to cope with stress in healthy ways and to build their self-esteem.
She went around to each student asking them to say something positive about themselves or something that they enjoy doing. When one girl couldn’t think of something she liked about herself, Diaz asked her classmates to say something they liked about her instead, which brought a smile to the girl’s face.
“Some kids kept coming up and saying thank you, and when I was in the small groups, one girl told me my presentation was really good,” Diaz said, feeling encouraged.
She also showed the students a video made by Dove where a sketch artist drew a portrait based on how the subject described themselves, then another portrait based on the description a new friend provided. It opened the students’ eyes to see that others often see you in a better light than you see yourself.
“I think there are certain things in my presentation that hit home with students, like the activities and the video,” Diaz said.
But she said there’s still a lot more awareness to spread.
Knowing that a Flagler County 17-year-old girl recently died by suicide on Jan. 14, Diaz is striving to do her part to uplift and educate youth.
“With all the news going on in Flagler County in this week and past weeks, I think something like this is really really needed in the schools,” Diaz said.
Diaz hopes to present her project ideas to the Flagler County School Board, in the hopes of establishing more mental health-focused classes in schools.