Stuyvesant Hosts Robin Mental Health Seminars for Freshman

Stuyvesant partnered with Robin, a community organization focused on mental health and emotional wellbeing, to work with freshmen students through seminars in order to help them learn techniques to alleviate stress.

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To support the incoming freshmen transitioning to in-person learning, Stuyvesant partnered with Robin, an organization that uses social-emotional learning to teach students techniques to promote healthy habits and support better mental health.

Robin serves as a support system for students and emphasizes the importance of learning coping techniques. “There wasn’t a solution [for mental health problems] out there for teenagers and middle school students, so that’s how [Robin] came up with the idea to help students with their mental wellbeing and support by providing them coaches in various topics,” Robin CEO and Co-Founder Sonny Thadani said. “To be great in this world, whether it’s business, or education, or [...] medicine, I think these types of skill sets are gonna excel.”

While the Robin sessions are open to students of all grades, they are specifically aimed at freshmen, to not only help them adjust back into in-person learning but also to Stuyvesant’s environment. “They’re the ones who are really not only integrating back into school in general but then also, without a global pandemic, Stuyvesant is an adjustment to many of our students,” Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick said. “We definitely wanted to bring [support] in for our students as they integrated back in in the fall and prepared to be in the habit of coming to school, back in with thousands of other students, taking the subway, and commuting in various forms, and the anxiety and stress that comes along with all of those things.”

These sessions occurred weekly over the course of a month and were divided into multiple topics such as “Social Media Overload” and “Thought Traps.” These topics were selected for the Robin program based on what their audience wanted to learn about. “We thought the best research was to actually go to students, teachers, school counselors, and principals, and have them help us think about what are the right topics to discuss,” Thadani said. “People wanted to learn more about how to develop skills to overcome challenges in their life,”

Additionally, the Stuyvesant counseling department found that Robin received positive responses from incoming freshmen through the Summer Rising Program earlier in the year. “[The students] said it was the highlight of their day,” biology teacher and Assistant Principal of Teacher Development Marianne Prabhu said. “[The students] felt like it was the one place they got something really constructive that they could use throughout the year, so after working with [Robin] over the summer and having a really positive response from students, we decided to bring them back for the school year.”

The counseling department emphasizes the importance that students learn coping strategies, especially after coming out of remote learning. “Every single human being needs to learn coping mechanisms. [...] The Robin lessons [teach] techniques and tools to be able to keep in your toolbox, to be able to pull out whenever stressful or anxiety-producing situations arise [to] help bring down your stress or anxiety in that moment,” Pedrick said.

Some teachers are incorporating Robin lessons into regular class lessons and encouraging students to attend the seminars through extra credit opportunities. “I asked attendees from my class to write an optional reflection piece and/or answer questions related to session(s) they attended via our Google Classroom,” Assistant Principal of the World Language, Art, and Music Department Francesca McAuliffe said in an e-mail interview.

Overall, many student attendees found the Robin seminars to be constructive. “I enjoyed my overall experience at the seminar because [the speaker Scott] Farber was an engaging orator and the topics he discussed were important to me. He discussed stress management tips, why we feel this way, and his story,” freshman Ibtida Khurshed said in an e-mail interview, who attended a session on November 3 that discussed normalizing stress and mental health struggles.

Students were also taught breathing exercise techniques and the ability to be more present. “We were taught how to meditate and focus on different points of our body, and how to just breathe, be mindful and aware of your body, and be nice to yourself. And we learned a little bit about anxiety and emotions,” freshman Preena Patel said.

Several students found these seminars effective in learning how to manage stress and hope to continue using coping techniques taught in the sessions. “We learned a breathing exercise where you inhale from one nostril and exhale from the other, and I definitely do that more often now. It really helps me relax before exams and relax before any big thing or whenever I’m feeling stressed out,” Patel said. “I used a lot of the things I learned, and I would definitely participate in another one.”

While some found the seminars helpful, others are less motivated to attend in the future. “I don’t think my freshman experience would have been extremely different without the Robin coaching seminar, but it did help give me a sense of relief and belonging,” Khurshed said. “I did find the session helpful overall, but I wouldn’t attend another one. [...] I don’t think the seminars play too much of a role in [the mental health discussion at Stuyvesant] because many people don’t go to them because they are on a time crunch as is.”

Ultimately, student attendees found the mental health techniques Robin teaches important and applicable to their daily lives. “The skills that we learned that day were really important and you can really apply them anywhere, not just to your academic life,” Patel said. “If you’re ever feeling a bit overwhelmed, all you have to do is breathe.”