TLC team ready to spread mental-health message
This summer, half a dozen students from The Learning Center will share their STLP project at a huge technology conference in Philadelphia. The trip will cap a tremendous investment of thought, time, and energy that has already netted them a state championship trophy and admiration across Fayette County Public Schools. It’s not the end, however. These teenagers hope to spread their message throughout Kentucky to encourage struggling peers to share their stories, find help, and believe in themselves.
The group’s Media Arts Studio project focused on mental health – a topic sometimes difficult to discuss but a growing problem among youth. “Of the thousands of projects and ideas, our students stood out. They just blew the judges away, and they couldn’t believe how amazing it was,” said Courtney Grimes, the STLP coordinator at The Learning Center (TLC). “For us, it was really cool because the judges didn’t realize we’re an alternative program. That made it a little more special because a lot of our kids aren’t used to being in the spotlight and winning, especially academic championships.”
“This is just one of the successes we have,” Grimes added. “We don’t think of STLP as a club. It’s really our culture here – research, inquiry, passion, exploration, making a difference – that’s what we’re about. It highlights what we do here.”
Bringing home the kudos from the Student Technology Leadership Program’s 2019 state competition were Vionte Miles, Cat Bowman, Jamison O’Bryan, Anna Lawrence, Kolbee Squire, and Austin Presley, who entered their project in the “Instructional” and “Community Service” categories. The three-part final product was called “Project T.L.C.,” which empowers students to tell about their struggles, seek a lifeline, and gain the confidence to be themselves.
“Not only is mental health an important subject, but it’s important to us as individuals,” said Cat, a junior. “Not a lot of people understand that teens can have depression and anxiety. I wanted to show that we suffer, too. We have these issues, but we can overcome them and find happiness.”
The project actually was the culmination of a two-year effort. Judges flagged the first entry as lacking cohesion, so the students set about weaving the pieces together using their imaginations and Adobe Creative Cloud. Part 1, Tell, featured black-and-white photography with some strobe effects. The students selected as models also wore somber expressions as they held up cards showing their first name, age, and one-word descriptions such as bipolar disorder. “You can never look at a person and judge them because you never know what’s going on,” Cat noted. In the PSA video (see below), these stark images led into a stream of color and laughter as the models then embodied the message of hope in Part 2, Lifeline.
The final piece for Part 3, Confidence, was an original magazine called Tigress, which used these before-and-after images and vibrant photos from a fashion shoot at McConnell Springs. “We went bigger and better,” said sophomore Vionte, the creative force who enjoyed this outlet. He designed and sewed the outfits with themes like glitter, feathers, and furs, and handled the models’ hair and makeup. The goal, Vionte said, was self-love in one’s appearance, personality, and all aspects. It worked for Cat. “Whenever I put on the dress he made, it washed away most of my body-image issues and started to build up my confidence about my body and what I can do,” she said.
Encouraged by their success, the team wants to distribute their PSA and magazine to mental health organizations and facilities that work with teenagers. Other schools have already reached out and invited the TLC team to come talk with their students. “We’re all happy to be living this experience. None of us were expecting it,” Vionte said.
Teacher Raven Evans, who guided the team, commended their overall enthusiasm. “Through the whole process, they learned good coping skills and how to solve problems as issues came up. We all kept persevering. My kids aren’t quitters,” she said. “This really shows what TLC is made for and how we want students to do their best and achieve something. I’m very proud of my kids. We’re still in shock, but they’re ready for Philadelphia!”
The TLC students will present their work at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia, which runs June 23-26. This is one of the largest education technology gatherings in the world, with nearly 25,000 people attending last year.