File photo by Erin Sanchez

West Bloomfield High celebrates life during U-Matter Week

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 20, 2019


WEST BLOOMFIELD — West Bloomfield High School recently held its fourth annual U-Matter Week the week of Nov. 11. It’s a tradition rooted in kindness and a belief that life is worth living, as well as a reminder to students that there is always help available if they are ever feeling down.

The event was originally started as a way to bring attention to mental health issues and suicide prevention.

“Each year we continue to expand on the program with the hope of doing acts of kindness and including others and demonstrating that each of us matters,” said Jennifer Sepetys, the student activities director and the student leadership teacher at West Bloomfield High.

Each day of U-Matter Week had its own theme, with special activities designed by the school’s Student Leadership Committee. There was “Mindfulness Monday,” when students were treated to bagels, bananas, apples and clementines in the morning, and a “Happiness Challenge” at lunch, when students could write things that make them happy on a board outside the cafeteria. On “Tasty Treats Tuesday,” students were to be treated to doughnuts, which were actually brought in on “Wellness Wednesday,” since Tuesday was a snow day.

“Wellness Wednesday” had such treats as smiley face sugar cookies in the morning, a performance of relaxing music by the orchestra class, and a section of the iCenter reconfigured as a relaxation area complete with bracelet making, coloring, therapy dogs and inspirational rock painting.

Then there was “Thankful Thursday,” with fruit snacks in the morning and thank-you notes provided to students at lunchtime, on which they wrote notes of appreciation to friends, other students and staff.

And finally, “Fun Friday” featured carnations in the morning for students to take for themselves or share with someone, as well as a student playing electric guitar to get everyone pumped at the start of the day. It was a half day, so students were dismissed at lunch.

“It was so nice to just do little, simple things, such as handing out carnations or bagels and getting to see all of the reactions of students and interacting with them,” Chloe Marcou, a senior on the U-Matter Committee, said in an email. “I honestly found myself having conversations with people I never even noticed at school before. It was just nice to see all the students in the morning and everyone just get in a good mood for the day.”

But the week featured more than nice gestures. There were also five-minute TED Talks on this year’s U-Matter Week theme of “What’s Your Spark.” These were presented by both students and staff in the auditorium on “Thankful Thursday.”

“I got to see a different side of some of the teachers I thought I knew so well and the ones I didn’t,” Morgan Barbat, a senior on the U-Matter Committee, said in an email. “It brought me closer to them. With this week, I realized life is about connections and to grow them, because you will be so much happier when you have people with you.”

And then there were several contests to increase student engagement, including an essay contest, a mixed-media contest and a window painting contest. Themes included such topics as kindness, inclusiveness, love and the importance of each person.

“It was incredible to see so many students working together on a common goal after school to paint the windows in support of U-Matter Week,” said Sepetys. “The windows are so creative and colorful and brighten up the hallway.”

There were other features throughout the week, including a viewing of the film “Suicide: The Ripple Effect” on “Wellness Wednesday” featuring a Q&A with filmmaker Kevin Hines, a man who survived a suicide attempt of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. And there were opportunities to donate new toys and personal hygiene items to Samaritas, with a competition among the fifth hour classes to see which could donate the most, with the winning class receiving an ice cream party.

U-Matter Week also serves as an opportunity each year to highlight the school’s many support systems for those struggling with a mental health crisis.

For example, during “Minute Meetings,” each student connects with their counselor and is asked questions on how they would rate their mental health, whether they feel there are adults they connect with in the building, and so on, which the counselors then use to determine program needs. These meetings take place three times per year.

There are also student yoga programs, community partnership therapy groups, counselors who specialize in coping skills, a therapy dog, a “zen room” dedicated to relieving stress and anxiety, a peer mentorship group, a mental health curriculum implemented in all freshman classes to teach students about mental health issues, student empowerment groups, and more.

“There are so many resources available at the school and in the community. All counselors, administrators and teachers at the high school are willing to help any student and their family navigate the challenges of mental health issues,” said Ashleigh Larkin, an assistant principal at West Bloomfield High.

She encouraged anyone who is struggling to tell someone.

“You are not alone,” Larkin said. “The first step is to be honest with yourself and reach out to a trusted adult to inform them of what is happening.”