By KEITH DUNLAP
A group of 200 West Bloomfield students on Tuesday got to officially celebrate finishing a curriculum that no other students in the country have gone through.
The students completed a 15-lesson curriculum on mental health created by Therapy.Live, a company founded by 1997 West Bloomfield graduate Ryan Beale that is “designed to move the needle” for mental health and how people cope with mental illnesses.
The curriculum supplemented the current health curriculum at the school and lasted from October until Thanksgiving.
Speaking to the group of students who finished the curriculum at an assembly, West Bloomfield principal Pat Watson spoke about how administrators at the school wanted to better educate students on the crisis of mental health.
Watson said simply having assemblies from time to time to talk about mental illness wasn’t good enough.
“You’re going to have thoughts that may not be the most positive, that’s part of life,” Watson told the students. “We were doing absolutely nothing to try and give you those (coping) skills and prepare you for what is going to happen.”
From there, Watson and West Bloomfield administrators got in touch with Beale and his team at Therapy.Live, who offered and came up with the curriculum for students to take.
Throughout the 15-lesson session, students learned coping and communication skills to better understand and talk about mental health issues.
West Bloomfield was the first high school in the country to use the curriculum.
One of the teachers was Jeremy Denha, who said a big component of the curriculum was simply listening to the stories and thoughts of others.
“A lot of our lessons started and ended with a group circle,” Denha said. “You would throw one leading question out there and sit.”
Teachers and students who participated in the program not only learned aspects of mental health they had no clue about, but they also became better equipped to take what they learned to their family and friends.
“I can take this with me to fatherhood,” Denha said.
The curriculum will also be used for the upcoming second semester.
Beale went on to successful careers in real estate and social networking after graduating from West Bloomfield, but his life and career path changed forever in 2009 when his brother Steve committed suicide.
Beale moved back to Michigan from Chicago to help his family cope with the tragedy, and from there developed a passion for mental health and addressing issues associated with it.
Beale went back to school to complete a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the Michigan School of Professional Psychology and founded Therapy.Live in 2015.
While West Bloomfield High School was the first to use the curriculum by Beale and this team, more will surely follow soon.
Therapy.Live has been invited to speak in the next three months at state school boards in Wisconsin and New York and plans to have the curriculum in place at hundreds of schools around the country.
Beale and his team were on hand at the assembly to hand out awards to Denha, Watson and health instructor Keith Garrison, as well as medals to all the students who completed the curriculum.
“There are so many components,” Beale said of the curriculum. “There is visual, work books and group process. It’s almost like an in-class therapy session that is able to be delivered by the health teacher that has no experience in mental health. That is the most unique aspect of this program. It can be a plug and play system into a class where we give them all the instruction up front, give technical support and we also have professional they can connect with. It’s a multi-faceted program. For some kids, their favorite part was that they learned to process anger and we heard stories about how they helped parents who were going off their hinges decompress using these tools.”
Also at the assembly was magician/speaker Anthony Grupido, who performed his act but also shared his story about he has struggled with depression and mental illness forged partly due to bullying he received in elementary school and an injury that ended his wrestling career in high school.
Grupido had hoped to earn a wrestling scholarship in college.
Grupido said in high school he unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide three times and wore sleeves to school even on hot days to hide marks on his wrists, but though counseling started to improve and now travels constantly to perform his act and share his story.