When it was their turn to speak, a crowd of Mercer Island High School (MIHS) students took a deep breath to collect their thoughts before grabbing the microphone and diving heartily into their experiences as young people on the island. .
Guest speaker at the MI Healthy Youth Forum 2022, Jennifer Miller – author of “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” – commended the students for showing bravery in voicing their insight and vital concerns among a room full of attendees at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center on November 9.
As the two-hour event drew to a close, young people stood strong at the forefront of the forum.
Following their robust breakout room discussion, MIHS senior Sophie Fischel said the students felt it was crucial for them to spend time out of the island bubble, and “How we are children and humans and we are going to make mistakes, and sometimes it’s going to have to be up to us to get through it.
Nadia Slivinski, a freshman at MIHS, said it’s helpful for parents to understand their children’s perspective so young people feel comfortable speaking up.
“It means a lot to us. Put yourself in our shoes and ‘What would you do?’ so we can feel safer to tell you things,” she told the crowd.
Anna Mock, a ninth-grade student at MIHS, noted that she asks parents to offer affirmative words to students, who may be exhausted from coping with school pressures.
“Even if you’re not doing a Hi-Cap class or doing whatever looks best, you’re still doing your best,” she said.
The student speakers received a round of applause from those in attendance, including Mercer Island School District (MISD) Superintendent Fred Rundle and Youth and Family Services (YFS) Administrator of Mercer Island, Tambi Cork.
Cork said the island’s talented, bright, driven and curious children are being raised by caring, involved and committed parents and supported by a community dedicated to the success and well-being of young people. There is immense hope for young people on the Island, however, they have been affected by the pandemic and the mental health crisis in the United States, added Cork, while mentioning the results of the 2021 survey on healthy young people.
“So there’s more reason than ever to lean into and invest in these core social-emotional wellbeing skills,” Cork said.
Rundle added: “Investing in our youth is absolutely paramount.”
At the forum, which was a YFS Healthy Youth Initiative program and hosted teens as well as parents of K-12 students, Miller spoke in depth via Zoom about how social-emotional learning plays a crucial role in the success of children and adolescents.
His own research and responses from a survey of Island middle and high school parents came together strongly during part of the event. Words like perseverance, determination, empathy, flexibility, nurturing, encouragement, understanding and many more have been used to identify the social and emotional skills and parenting skills needed for children to succeed.
“Our hopes and dreams can be fulfilled directly by developing social and emotional skills. It’s such a positive and hopeful image to me that in our daily interactions with our children and our daily routines with our teenagers, we can build, reinforce and recognize these social and emotional skills,” Miller said, adding more early on that there is no perfect parenting and family life, and that every family is unique in how they implement their values on a daily basis.
Middle school mother Tasha Brown said that during her table discussion with students, parents and YFS counselor Harry Brown, the group talked, in part, about making children always feel valued, listen to stories about their experiences and encourage them to engage in fulfilling activities such as volunteering in the community or joining a team.
After the forum, Miller added that a banner of hopes and dreams for Island children, featuring messages written by participants, will be displayed in a community location.
“I think it’s really important for a school community and the parent community to come together and say what they really want for their kids,” said Miller, who will partner with YFS and Montana State members. University Center for Health and Safety Culture on an online Parenting Mercer Island toolkit that Cork said it hopes to launch by this spring.