As summer is beginning to wind down, parents of school-age children are starting to gather school supplies and uniforms before schools reopen.
Even though bullying, positive self-image and mental health concerns are rarely top of mind when summer fun is underway, three nonprofits, IT TAKES TWO, INC. and Lauryn’s Law, Inc. and Art Works Now teamed up to offer an inaugural “No Bullying Zone: Create and Learn” event to help empower and prepare parents and youth to deal with bullying during the upcoming academic year.
Held on Saturday, July 28, 2018 at Artworks Now, which is based in Hyattsville, Maryland, critical conversations were initiated for children ages, six and older in an adult-led discussion, before creating art pieces in a safe space.
Youth created “I AM” portraits promoting positive self-images with the help of Art Works Now facilitators, Rachael Cross and Melissa Glasser. Art Works Now’s programming includes creating a stronger community through the arts. While down the hall, facilitators from Lauryn’s Law, Inc. provided information to help parents identify a child in crisis. The Laurel-based nonprofit, Lauryn’s Law, Inc. supports and advocates for youth suffering with mental illness.
IT TAKES TWO, INC. formerly based in Anne Arundel County is now based in Baltimore County and through its Tools for Success Scholarship offers help to students in grades four through college from single parent homes in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. The scholarships pay for school supplies, books, uniforms, and academic and sports registration fees.
To prepare fifth through ninth grade students for high school and college, IT TAKES TWO, also offers the Positioned for Greatness Youth Program, a six-pillar program which includes anti-bullying; financial literacy; college and career readiness; youth entrepreneurship; leadership; and community service.
“Our goal of creating a safe space for youth to express [their feelings] using art; and an educational environment for parents, community leaders, educators and anyone interested in learning how to identify a child being bullied, having suicidal ideations, or have attempted suicide,” said Jaemellah Kemp, founder of IT TAKES TWO, INC. “We plan to offer this anti-bullying program throughout local communities, businesses, nonprofit organizations and schools.”
In the parent’s workshop, led by facilitator Kelly Flanders, the five major signs of depression— agitation; withdrawal; hopelessness; decline in self-care; and personality change were brought to their attention.
“Thanks to Linda [Diaz], there are now two laws in Maryland— Lauryn’s Law 1 and Lauryn’s Law 2 that are being implemented in Maryland schools. Every school in the State of Maryland is required to train school personnel— teachers, school counselors and all essential personnel that have one-on-one contact with children. They now have to be trained to recognize the difference between depression and moody teenager, and in that training, they’re given the authority to talk to a child or to you (parents),” Flanders said. “It does not give teachers the authority to insert themselves in your home, but it can give them the authority to bring it to your attention.”
Linda Diaz’s 15-year-old daughter, Lauryn Santiago who took her life in 2013. Through her efforts, Lauryn’s Law 1 and Lauryn’s Law 2 were passed in the Maryland Legislature. Diaz continues to serve as a dedicated advocate for suicide awareness as a way of keeping her daughter’s memory and spirit alive.
“Until the first law was passed for Lauryn’s Law, the Maryland State Board of Education never required that school counselors be certified or recertified, or take any training in evidenced based wellness training for our children. So when I called my daughter’s counselor, and I gave my daughter’s counselor four of the five major signs that my daughter was on the severe rink of possible suicide, the school counselor had no clue. She never called my daughter down. She never talked to her. She never did anything, and a few weeks later, my daughter was gone to suicide,” Diaz said. “So with Lauryn’s Law version 1, school counselors now have to be certified. They also now have to recertified; and have to take evidenced-based training and certified training. They now have to take continued education training, which is now offered at many colleges in the state of Maryland.”