Empowering Montgomery County girls and addressing the mental health challenges they deal with is the goal of the upcoming Girls’ Summit. Attendees can participate in activities such as music and art therapy, dance in a Zumba class, munch on snacks from food trucks and watch a fashion show celebrating all body types.
The summit, hosted by MCPS, will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Clarksburg High School, at 22500 Wims Road. RSVP for the event at this Google form. The event is free and is open to MCPS students from elementary to high school.
The growing trend of mental health challenges teen girls are grappling with across the nation prompted the school district to develop the event, according to MCPS spokesperson Aisha Mbowe. In a press release for the summit, MCPS shared that a February 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “highlighted record levels of sadness, suicide risk, and violence reported by teen girls” across the nation, and Montgomery County is seeing the same trend.
Mbowe said the summit aims to raise awareness around mental health and give families and students support and access to resources around young women’s health.
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 800 people have signed up to attend the event, according to Mbowe.
Laura Mitchell, the vice president of advocacy and chair of the substance use and prevention committee at the Montgomery County Council of Parent-teacher Association (MCCPTA) said the inclusive fashion show “[highlights] the fact that whatever size or shape that you are, you could still be beautiful, you are still beautiful and feel beautiful and you can rock that trendy clothing line.”
She added that she hopes the summit will empower young girls to “see their value, claim that, own that and not let someone else define who you are.”
The MCCPTA has worked with the school district for around four years on substance abuse, mental health issues, prevention and treatment and harm reduction, Mitchell said. She noted that the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2021 showed that girls have been highly impacted in the areas of mental health and risk-taking behaviors such as substance use and vaping.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a set of surveys created by the CDC to track behaviors that can lead to poor health in students from ninth to twelfth grade.
Workshops at the summit include sessions on healthy relationships and dating violence, social media use and mental health, cyberbullying, self-esteem, body image, healthy eating, identifying symptoms of depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicide.
Parents and guardians of attendees can partake in sessions as well. Mitchell, who is the co-founder of Montgomery Goes Purple, said that she will be running a workshop and discussion around substance use and mental health for parents.
Montgomery Goes Purple is a community coalition founded in April 2022 that offers free Narcan training, grief counseling after overdose, substance use and mental health treatment resources, according to its website.
Another significant part of the summit will be the networking opportunities, Mitchell said, which can help attendees meet other students across the school system who share things in common. In addition, there will be a resource fair for girls to discover after school and extra-curricular activities.
“Making those connections is critical, especially as early as possible to preserving your mental health through those years,” she said. “Those difficult years of middle school and high school, your mental health and your worldview and your self-worth can really be challenged in some of those situations. … So, it’s worth coming just to connect if nothing else.”
Additionally, students who attend will have the opportunity to earn Student Service Learning (SSL) hours, according to a flier for the event.
Mbowe said Stephanie Iszard, the executive assistant to MCPS’ Office of School System Medical Officer, is the “brainchild” behind the summit.
“I saw the need, especially after the pandemic through my work with schools and around the county but it became even more clear when we saw the data,” Iszard said. “… I knew something had to be done to give our young girls the space to feel supported and valued.”
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, the MCCPTA, Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Girls on the Run, Identity and Screenagers are among the organizations and groups featured at the summit.
So far, Mitchell has only heard excitement about the fair from parents and students. She recalled that at a recent back-to-school fair she had fliers for the event that she “couldn’t keep on the table” due such a high interest.
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