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Students learn to "chill" at RFHS

River Falls High School is one of nine area high schools chosen to be part of Allina's new "Change to Chill" school partnership.

The Change to Chill partnership is meant to support school-wide efforts to create a culture of mental wellbeing for students and staff.

"When teens have the resources and support to stress less, they are more resilient and able to live fuller and happier lives," said Susan Nygaard, manager of Allina Health's Community Health Improvement. "Change to Chill works as a preventive measure to equip teens with tools and resources to better manage stress and anxiety."

"RFHS was lucky to receive a grant for 'Change To Chill' which partners with Allina Health," said River Falls Renaissance Academy Director Taryl Graetz. "In our Youth Risk Behavior Survey students participated in last spring, students indicated some concern about increased anxiety and stress. Some of the stress goes hand-in-hand with the years of managing all of the activity of school, managing part-time work, and the pressures of dating and being a teen in 2018."

She said the River Falls School District felt it needed to take an active role in helping kids manage stress.

The partnership kicked off with "Chill Week," Sept. 10-14.

Nygaard said teen mental health needs are on the rise in the region.

"We are seeing both in Minnesota and Wisconsin the rates for depression, anxiety and suicide have all been on the rise," She said.

That data comes from health assessments done by Allina and student survey data.

According to 2016 MN Student Survey results, about 1 in 5 students indicated experiencing symptoms of depression. Ninth grade students who reported mental health concerns lasting six months or more increased from 12.5 percent in 2013 to 17.3 percent in 2016. And the percentage of 11th graders who said they seriously considered suicide in the past year increased from 9.7 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2016.

The goal of the Change to Chill program is to equip students with resources to deal with their own stress and to help schools make changes to create a calming, relaxing environment.

Change to Chill (www.changetochill.org) is an online resource created by Allina. The website has tools to help kids manage stress, and resources for parents, educators and other adults.

The resources on the website are free and anyone can use Change to Chill to help teens. However, the schools Allina is directly partnering with are receiving additional support.

Chill Week, for example, featured a Homecoming-style week of different themed days, each focusing on a way to "chill."

Monday was "mindfulness Monday," and focused on helping kids be mindful and more "in the moment."

Tuesday was "Tech-free Tuesday," during which students got tips on how to decrease their time spent on electronic devices.

On "Wellness Wednesday," students learned strategies to promote wellness.

On "Thankfulness Thursday," students worked on expressing who and what they were grateful for.

On "Fun Friday," students tried to celebrate and be happy.

The Change to Chill partnership includes:

• Train the Trainer session for educators

• Focus group(s) for students

• Outreach and engagement with parents

• Peer mentoring program development

• $1,000 towards creating a "Chill Zone," a designated student space to relax

The schools selected for the Change to Chill Partnership include:

Arcadia Charter School — Northfield, Minn.

Cambridge-Isanti High School — Cambridge, Minn.

Coon Rapids High School — Coon Rapids, Minn.

Harding High School — St. Paul, Minn.

Hopkins High School — Hopkins, Minn.

Maple Lake High School — Maple Lake, Minn.

New Ulm High School — New Ulm, Minn.

River Falls High School — River Falls, Wis.

Shakopee High School — Shakopee, Minn.

Schools not selected for the Partnership can access the resources on the website including ready-to-use lessons, activities, videos and digital collateral. Schools and communities interested in participating in a training can submit a request form.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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