MARION (WSIL) — A new class at Marion Junior High School is working to address mental health in students.
“We’re letting them know it’s okay to not be okay and to have problems and talk about it, especially at this young age of 12 and 13 years old”, explained Marion Police Officer Jason Plichta.
It’s called “Your Thoughts Matter: Navigating Mental Health” and it’s the first year for the program.
This semester features three classes of seventh grade girls while the boys will have their turn after the New Year.
The school has partnered with the Marion Police Department and Officer Plichta along with his “Paw-ficer”, Gary, to address common issues that can impact mental health, such as bullying, much of which is done on the internet.
“There’s so many different ways that people can be hurt,” said Plichta “Mentally, whether it’s bullying, whether it’s the body shaming, a lot of people are too scared to talk about it because they don’t want that stigma put on them.”
Since the class started, the benefits to the students have been noticable in the school.
“We’ve been able to see a huge growth in them in terms of their understanding of mental health and what it actually means to them,” explained Plichta.
The class would not be the same without Gary. He’s the K-9 therapy dog for the Marion Police Department and Plichta’s trusted partner.
“Being able to bring him in completely changes the dynamic of the class,” said Plichta. “It completely changes it from a tense situation to more open and people being willing to talk about things.”
Officer Plichta hopes programs like this will be a good way to bridge the gap toward a better understanding between law enforcement and students.