Courtesy of NHPS

As in-person interactions remain limited nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, New Haven Public Schools launched a campaign this month to improve community mental health.

Since the start of the pandemic, NHPS officials have heard feedback from the community on ways to support the mental health and well-being of NHPS members — which has led to the creation of the #NHPSWeConnect campaign. The campaign is the district’s initiative to unite the New Haven community and improve community mental health and wellness and will feature a variety of virtual community events, including panels, wellness activities and games in coming weeks.

Monica Abbott, the district’s social-emotional learning coordinator, and Typhanie Jackson, the director of student services, said they heard that many community members missed the sense of interactivity from in-person activities. Abbott and Jackson now serve on the organizing committee for the campaign.

“Even during these difficult and chaotic times, it’s just a reminder that we can remain hopeful, and when we reach out for community, we see everybody coming together to support the well-being [of others],” Abbott said in an interview with the News. “There’s a saying that goes ‘it takes a village,’ it’s true.”

In November and December, many community members — such as NHPS officials, students, alders, community members and Yale students — came together to start the campaign. At the end of last year, the groups began to formalize the campaign’s launch, its goals and a slate of planned events and activities.

A Feb. 2 press release from the campaign states that the group has so far launched a “connection video,” designed NHPS school walls with murals and started wellness activities for school administrators.

Additionally, the campaign has started advertising a “Day of Hope and Healing.” The virtual daylong event is scheduled for Feb. 24 and will include panels, singalongs, dance shows, cooking demonstrations, yoga and more. According to Jackson, some 50 different community organizations plan to host an event during the day.

Katherine Du ’22 and Vivian Wang ’23, co-directors of the Yale Student Mental Health Association’s Mindful Exchanges, are among the many NHPS community partners who are working with the #NHPSWeConnect campaign.

Mindful Exchanges is a Yale organization that works with global youth communities to teach young people — particularly low-income and minority youth — the importance of mental health and to provide strategies for them to take care of themselves. Du and Wang have been working with Abbott and NHPS on “Wellness Wednesdays,” a virtual afterschool activity on Wednesdays focusing on mental health for NHPS students, since the fall semester.

“So far, we have been helping brainstorm some activities and things for kids to do after school on Wednesdays,” said Wang when asked about Wellness Wednesdays. “[The students] get a bunch of activities that have to do with wellness, whether it be virtual museum tours or arts and crafts.”

Du and Wang said that Mindful Exchanges plans to host a mental health and wellness-themed game of Jeopardy on the “Day of Hope and Healing.” Going forward, they plan to create videos about different topics, such as personal identity, for Wellness Wednesdays.

Jackson said that she is unsure what the turnout will look like on next week’s “Day of Hope and Healing,” but that no matter how many people turn out, even connecting with one person can help alleviate the lack of interpersonal connection stemming from the pandemic.

According to the Feb. 2 press release, the #NHPSWeConnect campaign is currently working on creating banners and postcards to thank families and caregivers for their resilience during the pandemic.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu