Project 180: Students Helping Students
Jody Nelson and Sara Paye
Counselors at Southern Door High School in Brussels, Wisconsin
When students are asked what issues they face, mental health problems and drug usage often top the list of concerns. In Door County, Wisconsin, four county high schools formed a coalition called Project 180 to allow students to make a positive difference on these issues in their schools and across their communities. Jody Nelson and Sara Paye are counselors at Southern Door High School in Brussels, Wisconsin. They discuss the success of Project 180, current concerns of the young people, and the empowerment of students. If you’d like more information about Project 180, contact Mike McGowan at [email protected].
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome everyone. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, a series brought to you by Westwords Consulting. I'm your host, Mike McGowen.
Mike: You know, as we approach the end of another interesting and challenging school year. We wanted to have a discussion about the many obstacles and challenges young people have to navigate and how a few schools collectively are addressing them.
Mike: This is another in those series that we've been having of people that make a difference. My guests today are Jody Nelson and Sara Paye. Sara and Jody are counselors at the Southern Door High School in Brussels, Wisconsin in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin. They're also advisors for their school's Project 180 Program.
Sara: Welcome. Thanks for having us.
Jody: Yes, thank you.
Mike: Glad you could be here. Well, I suppose we should start with this, since I put this in the introduction, what is Project 180?
Sara: So actually funny, we got a little tutorial on this from Steve because it started a long time before we were hired by Southern Door.
Sara: So basically it started with a leadership group of students in Door County that got together. And after their conference, the kids really wanted to continue doing leadership things with the schools in Door County. So as of right now, it's the only initiative that all Door County schools are a part of. So students from us, Sturgeon Bay, Gibraltar, and Sevastopol always attend.
Sara: It's student driven, which is great cuz they're coming up with a lot of the ideas. And it's just a way to bring student leaders from our school, from diverse groups and really come together and share ideas on different plans that they have or ways they wanna make an impact in our school.
Mike: Well, Jody, the having. Four high schools collaborate seems rather unique.
Jody: It absolutely is. Even though mile-wise we are our spread quite a ways apart we're unique in the fact that, you know, we do have that distance. But fortunately for all of us, we do run into a lot of the same things that are going on. We do have county counselor meetings as well. So it helps us to kind of keep track of what is going on in our county what things we can kind of focus on or target in Door County for our schools and our kids. And just the part of getting together and being able to collaborate so that we're all not recreating the wheel every time we run into something and having that student input from the various areas in the county is really very helpful for all four districts.
Mike: Yes. So Sara, what are, what are, what are the kids wanting to work on? I mean, what are the issues the kids say are important to them?
Sara: For our group and we're really lucky cause our group when Jody and I took over like was two or three years ago, we kind of restarted it a little bit. And so we brought in, we asked the teachers, who are some leaders that you think would have a great voice?
Sara: So I would say like, our group at that time, I think was like 12 or 16 kids. We've now grown to like 50 to 60 kids, which is crazy. But when we bring 'em together and talk, they're always talking about like mental health. They want to like teach people about mental health issues and how they can cope with those issues and ways they can get help for those issues.
Sara: Our group is really also about, I think trying to like incorporate positivity. So like how can you make some positive decisions and positive change. So like our group's activities will pertain a lot about. Giving kind of like that little warm fuzzy feeling to our students. They really wanna do that for them.
Sara: And then also just about like, I think substance-free time. So like recently we just did a lock in with our students 12 hour stint from 7:00 PM till 7:00 AM we had 28 students come. Told them if we were gonna do it, there was gonna be no phones allowed. And the students readily agreed and actually told us it was a breath of fresh air, not to have to worry about it for 12 hours.
Sara: And we had activities and games and they loved it. Just the place that they could like, interact with their friends, not worry about the stress of what was going on outside of the building and the people they were with. So it's, it's really more about like, I think creating opportunities of positive choices and then mental health and then definitely some substance-free, they like that option of having some substance-free times.
Mike: Well, Sara, you just mentioned it and Jody, I, I actually wanted to talk about that. You're both high school counselors and we all read all these studies about mental health issues. They've just skyrocketed. Since a lot of people say COVID, but it's since the onset of social media.
Mike: Covid made it worse.
Mike: What, what do you see on a day-to-day basis among your student population at the high school regarding depression, anxiety, stress, whatever.
Jody: I, I feel like I, I don't think it's as much, at least we're not aware of it at the high school level, but I know at the middle school level we do have a lot of the anxiety and depression and we have a lot of students seeking outside mental health support in regards to those two issues. We do have a lot of unfortunately cutting and talks about self-harm. So, you know, we are doing a lot of, of reaction unfortunately, instead of being able to be proactive, which is where Project 180 comes in you know, to try to educate students on the resources that are out there and positive strategies that they can use instead of you know, us having to be reactive. You know, we'd like to focus on the prevention. Even in our Door County schools, there's not a lot of diversity or various cultures. And so when we do have things that are, are different, not just culture-wise, but you know, any, the LGBTQ, any of those types of things, you know, we really try to have inclusion and.
Jody: Just the education, you know, and being respectful. And as Sara was talking about all the different things that we do within the high school in regards to the messages and lockers, or we had little gift bags at Christmas. So that we do try to just create that inclusion and acceptance of everyone.
Jody: So that's one thing that we really try with the mental health. You know, to just try to be more proactive and we do various activities and things on our televisions that are in the district, you know, to provide that information and education for students.
Mike: Well, and I, I think right, Sara, that, that education is really important because you're, I don't know if you'd consider yourself rural, but I do.
Jody: Mm-hmm. [laugh]
Mike: Or so many districts across the country that I go to that are rural don't have a lot of resources readily available. If the worst comes to the worst.
Sara: Yeah, I would, I would say that's definitely something that we've talked about. I know like in May, our group is actually gonna be doing like a mental health awareness week.
Sara: We had done this a couple years ago and the kids really enjoyed it and so they wanted to bring it back. They're actually gonna get into small groups and investigate and kind of learn more about a mental health issue, whether it's anxiety or depression, or talk about substance abuse things like that.
Sara: And then they're gonna put together basically like a little video that will play every day for one week during our ELT homeroom time. So that way all the kids can hear about like what these issues are, some facts about the issues and then ways to like cope and get used resources if you need help in those times or strategies they can use to get through it.
Sara: So we are gonna be starting that pretty soon with our group and then, like I said, that'll play in the beginning of May. And then last time we did that, we actually shared it, with all the videos, with all of the staff in the school too, just so they could see what our students are trying to do.
Sara: Because it's nice for the other students in the school to get a message from students and not just us. They don't, don't always wanna hear from adults, right? So when you have kids that you know that you can trust and are living what they say, it's really nice to be able to hear those resources from them.
Mike: I would think that when you get together with the other three high schools, that you also share your ideas and they share theirs with yours and you borrow off one another.
Jody: Mm-hmm. Right.
Sara: Yeah, for sure. I know like we have talked about this year, and we haven't done it yet, and we might actually try to re reinitiate this discussion.
Sara: They talked about doing penny wars among the county, so it would be like, kind of schools competing against school with the Penny wars. But then the goal of it again is to make awareness of certain issues and then all the money we would raise, we would put towards like a community organization that works on mental health awareness or you know, maybe like a suicide prevention or, or something like it would be an organization we come up with that would benefit in our community.
Mike: Awesome. You know, you mentioned social media a couple of times and I, I'm just, I don't know this, how do you handle social media? How do you handle cell phone policy during the school day?
Sara: We're laughing cuz this just got re-upped [laugh] like a week and a half ago.
Mike: Well, a lot of districts are dealing with this, so right?
Jody: Yeah, we, we have it's very interesting sometimes to see kids walking down the, through the halls and their head is down and they're on their phones. So we actually, as Sara just said just recently, they are not allowed to have any phones in the classrooms. They can keep them in their lockers or they can keep them in their car.
Jody: But if they have them in a classroom, they have to put 'em in kind of the little... We have a thing hanging each in each classroom and they need to turn it in their little pockets. No one goes near them. There has been a little bit of pushback, you know as we know, kids are, are very much, that's their lifeline to everything, so it's very difficult to have kids turn that in because you know, privacy and they need to know everything going on, on social media at any given time.
Jody: So at our school, that's what we just implemented a week or so ago. But as far as social media, it is a challenge because when things go on outside of school, that kind of ties our hands. It happens outside of our, our, our doors and our walls. But yet as we know, it all trickles back into school when things happen at night.
Jody: Kids can't just leave that suitcase of garbage at the door, they bring it in with them. So a lot of times it does become a school issue.
Jody: And then we do have to address things that were said or done on social media. And you know, it's unfortunate that, you know, back in the day when we were in school, you, you got a break from different things like the bullying or when things were said because you know, you, when you got off the bus at four o'clock, you didn't have to deal with it again until you walked back into school at eight and now social media is 24/7.
Jody: And when you're constantly checking that it's, it's all the time and on weekends and you never get a break. And it's also very overwhelming. Years ago if something was said to you in front of a handful of people, that's who knew. And you, it depended on the word of mouth. Now you post it on social media and if you have a hundred friends and they like it or share it, it's exponential of how something can get spread.
Jody: And if it's your name that's being spoken or talked about, it can be very overwhelming to see things that are shared and said negatively about you. So, just due to the timing of it, that you never get a break and just how it spreads so much faster. You know, it is a lot for kids to deal with and even adults for that matter.
Sara: And I would say like sometimes when I talk to the kids, you know, they'll put stuff out there and they know that people are gonna see it, but I think even sometimes they're surprised by how far it can go. Cause it's like a heat of the moment thing, you know, when they do it and they just don't realize how that impact just keeps going and going and going.
Sara: So I just think even getting them to sometimes take a step back and really get them to think about like what you put on there should be really purposeful and not like a heat of the moment emotion, because everyone has heat of the moment emotions. But you have to learn when to like censor and not, or who you can trust with those emotions versus going to the social media, you know?
Jody: Right. And the power of your words. I, you know, sometimes kids really, they don't realize that when they say something, it really does matter to another person, you know? And the other side of that, they think, if I send it to you and I delete it, you delete it. It's gone. And kids don't realize that it's never gone.
Jody: Once you put it on a social media platform, it's not your information anymore. That's, that's a public forum that anyone could have screenshotted and it never goes away. So a lot of those things, it's difficult. To help kids understand the ramifications and how big it becomes once it hits social media.
Mike: No, I think that's the next big battle that we're going to all be fighting because it's such a huge thing for their mental health as well as, as you said, Sara, their social and emotional development as well. But the old battle that we've been fighting that you also address are the drugs.
Mike: So I, I think that we go through cycles of drugs of, and what we pay attention to goes down. That's the good news always for me is whatever we pay attention to, the usage goes down. What are you noticing now that you have to pay attention to?
Sara: I would definitely say vaping is really big. I mean, it's so easy for them to get their hands on things and and they're small, right?
Sara: So they're easy to like hide or they're easy to like disguise or whatever. It just, it seems like that is about a lot, right? At like all the levels.
Jody: And, and they come in such different shapes and sizes that even as a parent, regardless of how diligent you want to be or your intentions are, it's very difficult.
Jody: They can be right in hidden and plain sight, and you might completely miss it because they're, they're made to be targeted towards kids. And even the flavors and the different things are more targeted to kids flavors and when you have a vape, you really don't know what's in it or you can put things in it that is a little bit more than maybe what a student anticipates, so it can be more dangerous than what they truly believe.
Jody: So that, that's our big thing.
Mike: And I would think part of the message for your Project 180 is if you have student leaders who are pretty strong, non-using kids and positive in their message. That's going to filter down as the norm is to not use.
Sara: Yeah. And that's part of the reason why we wanna do the videos, right, is like get that message out there by those kids so that students can hear.
Sara: Okay. I don't have to feel like I'm the only one. I think that's a big thing too. Cause oftentimes you hear, well, everyone does it. Well everyone doesn't do it right. But like there is a big group that do. So it's nice, I think to kind of put a highlight and a focus on the ones that aren't, so that people know they're not alone. If they wanna make those good decisions.
Mike: Well, and, and the three of us are living in a state where adult usage is incredibly high. We always rank among the top states in binge drinking, chronic drinking, excessive drinking, and COVID made it worse in Wisconsin and it's almost become a joke, but a lot of the kids are coming to school, having watched their parents do things that we've just been talking about for a half an hour.
Mike: That you'd like the kids to not do?.
Mike: How do we help kids navigate their family structure if it's not healthy?
Sara: Yeah, I guess like when I deal with students like that, I really try to focus on like, I think it's important to hear them right so they feel heard and they can talk about their like, fears, worries, all of that.
Sara: But a lot of what I really try to focus on is like, okay, that's stuff that you can't control though. So what you can control is your decisions going forward. So how do you wanna make things different? Like what are like. Proactive things you can do in your home or in, or even like for your siblings to see that would maybe lead them on a path that would be different than what they're seeing at home.
Sara: I mean, it's just hard cuz their hands are really tied, you know, with some of those situations.
Jody: And some of the terms they use, I, I feel I've experienced are very relative, so, What constitutes drinking a lot at one in one household looks completely different in another. I, I've actually had students come to me very, very upset because it was a house where there was no drinking and the student came in literally very visibly upset from the day before because the parent had had there were two empty beer bottles while the dad was grilling. And so we talked about that of, you know, why that was upsetting and the expectations at their house because it was a non-drinking home versus another household where, where maybe a parent there, there may be issues at the house in regards to alcohol. There may be a lot consumed every night, but that's the norm for that house.
Jody: And like Sara said, just to try to help them understand you can't always control that environment or the people in it, but you certainly have control over your choices and what you are going to do going forward.
Mike: You know, I, I, I've used this, and you've probably heard me say this before, but a, a lot of what we're talking about navigating homes, navigating the, the kids at school, your own environment, whatever, you know, we call them social emotional skills, but actually what this stuff is, is job employment skills.
Mike: This is the stuff employers are looking for, right?
Mike: And if we, if we don't involve ourselves in it, we graduate kids who are not gonna be necessarily great employees.
Sara: The very true. And that's, that's the one thing, like whenever we do job shadows, cause I really try to encourage kids to go on them, is to like talk about those skills.
Sara: Or when we bring in guest speakers, really enforce what you're looking for in an employee as like the soft skills, not just the technical skills because the soft skills are, they're really tough.
Sara: For kids to understand the importance of them going into a job.
Mike: [inaudible] from employers all the time.
Jody: Yeah. Sometimes it's hard for them to wrap their head around it that they don't get to call when they're at a job. They don't get to call the shots. They actually have to do what they're told. They sometimes don't have a choice and to explain to them, that's why it's a job that you, even though you were hired for this, there may be things you have to do outside of that specific position that you don't wanna do, but that's why it's a job and not called a vacation [laugh].
Mike: That's [laugh], I may use that word again...
Mike: But talk about that because here's what I've heard, I don't know if you've experienced this at your school, but the reports I read say that a lot, well, I shouldn't say a lot, but more kids are delaying college if they were gonna go to college or rethinking it and are a little bit less optimistic about their future.
Mike: At a time where I think they should be really optimistic about their future.
Mike: Do you notice that, or?
Sara: Honestly, I really don't notice that for our students. I mean, I think like the first year after COVID, I think kids were a little bit more unsure about that. But now, like that, we've been around a little bit since then.
Sara: L ike this graduating class, I don't really see that. Like most of the kids are like pretty focused on what they wanna do. But that being said, Again, I really focus on getting kids to do job shadows, to try to get some experiences. Our youth apprenticeship program has grown a ton, so kids are getting opportunities to like explore careers before going out there, which I think alleviates some of that fear that they had because they have a connection made.
Sara: Or understand what the job looks like. So it feels more like an excitement, like ready to build on, and they feel a little more confident because they've done that research already. So I don't know, for our kids, I don't, I don't really see that for Southern Door right now. I'm sure there are some for sure, but.
Mike: Well, I, I think that's, that's great.
Mike: That does jive what I see. I think we did a reset after COVID, and I think we're still going through some of that.
Mike: I go to schools where they'll say, boy, this eighth grade is boy, they missed something during those years or whatever. But that's good to that's good to hear. I hope they feel optimistic.
Mike: Do you think they do, Jody?
Jody: Well, when, when I have the eighth grade planning conferences with them and get them ready for high school, you know, at that point they're, they're obviously middle schoolers, so it's a, it's a developmental stage at that point. But they're kinda like, oh no, I'm not, some of them, not all.
Jody: I'm not going to college. I don't wanna be in school now. And that's why I think because they, they don't wanna be told what to do, you know, it's that age. You know, as Sara said, I think as they start to experience things like the youth apprenticeship and that as the requirements get smaller, And the elective areas and the choices they get to, you know, so they're taking more of what they want to do versus what they have to, I think then they're, they're more likely to think, you know what, now that I'm getting more into my area of what I enjoy and what I like and not sitting in a classroom, learning the fundamental basic requirements, you know, they're more likely to, to find their niche in what they wanna do.
Jody: And then that's where Sara comes in at junior and senior year and kind of tying them and matching them up with either a youth apprenticeship or AP courses or both, or different things to find that pathway for them.
Jody: So I think it's helpful, the maturity and those options that we now have, which is great.
Sara: Yeah. When you're interested in a subject, it doesn't really feel like learning, right? It feels it's fun and you're engaged. So if you can find that like matching, that works really well for the student, it gets them excited about what's to. So,
Mike: Yeah, unfortunately they didn't have a class in playing center field for the New York Yankees.
Mike: Well, let's, let's end this with your, let's circle back to the leadership, because I think that's really important. If you have 50 to 60, how many kids in your high school?
Sara: There's like 330, I think 340.
Mike: So you're talking about a sixth of your high school is in Project 180.
Mike: And that doesn't even include all the captains and student government people.
Mike: Leadership is such a huge thing. How impressive are the kids and what they can do if you let 'em do stuff.
Sara: I think our whole school, honestly, we we're really blessed with our student population in general, but I do think we definitely have some really great leaders that have great ideas.
Sara: And the thing about them is when they're passionate about it, they're not afraid to like share it with everybody. And then when people can feel that enthusiasm, they're more apt to wanna join. You know, like even in our group, like you said, we have like a sixth of the students in our group, and when we saw our numbers this year, we were like, holy. What are we, how are we gonna even do that? Like, that's so many. And so we had told us in our first meeting, like, this isn't something for you to put on a, a scholarship application. Like if you're gonna join the group, like you need to take some ownership. So like we broke into committees and activities we wanted to do throughout the year and we're like, if you wanna be in it, you need to be on two committees.
Sara: Like you are gonna do some work in the school.
Sara: And the kids were like, great. Like, sign us up [laugh]. So, I mean, we did, we use 'em, right? And it's been going really well.
Jody: And obviously they, they are good leaders and are very convincing because they talk, Sara and I, into doing a lock-in for 12 hours.
Jody: I'll be honest, we're getting a little too old to stay up from seven at night until seven in the morning on a Friday night after working all week and on the weekend where we lost an hour of sleep on Saturday night. So let me tell you, Monday was. Slow moving [laugh].
Sara: No, I think when, when the kids can really like grab onto an idea and I think Jody and I, I feel like part of what our strength is too, is we really try to listen to their ideas.
Sara: Cuz like she said, the lock in was not, that was not self expressed by us. That was them. Right. So if we, if they come up with the idea and we allow them and encourage their idea, it really can grow really great. And I think that's part of what has helped our student leaders is to I mean obviously we have to reign in certain things, right?
Sara: But like, for the most part, we let them develop their ideas and then how they wanna carry it forward and then we just give them the guidance to do that effectively.
Mike: I think that's awesome. And you know, if you don't give 'em stuff to do, they quit cuz they'll go do something else. These are, these are not idle people, right.
Mike: And, and, and secondly, thank you for not inviting me to the lock-in.
Sara: [laugh] We didn't have a lot of other volunteers either for staff, but we'll see how the future goes us.
Jody: They just talked us into another one this school year. And both Sara and I are kind of like, "Are you crazy? We're still recovering from the last one!" [laugh]
Mike: Yeah, well, they, they. They [laugh] like it. I, I, I spoke to soon. You're gonna invite me to the next one, I think.
Sara: [laugh] Okay. Well we hear you. We hear you volunteering. That's all we're hearing.
Mike: Ya, that's right. Well, thank you both for spending the time with us today. This is really important. You know, I work with youth all the time. I know you do as well. And what I hear on the outside about what they're dealing with, is, they're dealing with a lot of stuff, but they're also capable of handling a lot of stuff.
Mike: And thanks for the opportunities that you give them.
Mike: For those of you who are listening, this is what we talk about, people making a difference in their lives and in the lives of other people. So we invite you to listen in next time, and until then, we encourage you to please stay safe, have conversations with your kids, and let 'em do stuff.
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