After a fight involving students led to a dropped gun outside of an East Lansing High School basketball game on Jan. 19, community leaders, students and parents called for solutions.
Brave Space founder Alexis Rosado and her mentor Belynda Cage presented one such solution based on mental health at a recent ELHS School/Public Safety Listening Session on Jan. 27 in the Hannah Community Center.
Cage is an educator in the Lansing School District, who had Rosado help students in previous classes through the Brave Space program.
Brave Space is “dedicated to improving the lives of those who battle suicide ideation, self-harm, and mental health [issues] by creating a brave space for vulnerability and conversations,” Rosado said. “We empower students, families and community leaders to heal emotional, relational and spiritual wounds through evidence-based practices.”
Her method of self-expression-based practices comes from various techniques and concepts Rosado learned throughout her education and in her work in broadcast, nonprofits and children’s summer camps. Rosado strives to provide others with the tools to talk through their feelings.
Brave Space programs, which involve 6-week workshops, developed from Rosado’s personal battle with suicide ideation and self-harm as a kid. Writing helped stop her negative self-talk and harm. It became her go-to when she dealt with suppression of emotion.
According to Rosado, every Brave Space session creates a space of vulnerability and conversation where students feel they can share their trauma, honest thoughts, and hearts. Once the students release their feelings, they end with an empowerment activity. Replacing each wound with an empowerment piece or a new way of thought.
North Elementary, Waverly High School, Windemere Park Charter Academy, and Dwight Rich Middle School have completed Brave Space programs in the past, and some have had multiple sessions.
“We started doing this program and fine-tuning it,” Rosado said. “We built an advisory team council, which Belynda is a part of. Not only did we test it in different classrooms, but we had leaders coming every week to improve it, so every program was better. We did seven programs last year.”
Brave Space received a grant from the Ingham County Health Department this year.
“The grant is so we can do this in a couple more schools, and that’s where we hope to add East Lansing,” Rosado said.
Emmerson Davis, a junior at ELHS, said her school needs to focus on students’ mental health as a solution.
“We had social-emotional learning every Wednesday in middle school. It was awkward, and nobody liked it, but it really helped. There was definitely an impact,” Davis said. “We need to learn more about our emotions and our mental health and what we are feeling and thinking.”
Cage spoke with students at the Jan. 27 listening session to gauge ELHS student interest in Brave Space.
“A lot of the kids that I talked to were just elated if something like what we have in place could come into their building because of what they were dealing with,” Cage said. “They felt many kids would show up because they are frustrated, hurt, and unheard.”
Rosado wants to implement a 6-week program where students can lead the conversation on what they would like to discuss or go into. The program will be customized to the student’s direct needs.
“Our focus is mental health, absolutely, but if something is happening in the school that students want to share their thoughts and perspectives on, we know how to facilitate dialog like that,” Rosado said.
Rosado would also like to develop options for a 1-day or 6-week program for faculty on what they have endured.
“They need a brave space where they are vulnerable and can work through how to support one another,” Rosado said.
Cage and Rosado agree that implementing Brave Space into the school will get more students involved. They believe their program and others will be needed to keep the school safe.
Sydni Ooten, a sophomore at ELHS, said her peers in general are struggling with their mental health. She is interested in using Brave Space as a solution.
“I believe that implementing a self-help hour in place of one excel day would be very beneficial for the students to learn how to understand their emotions and cope with the changing environment,” Ooten said.
Even before the recent violent incidents at ELHS involving a fight and dropped gun, Rosado had brought Brave Space to East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon’s attention.
“The mayor was already on board with Brave Space. It’s just a matter of getting all their ideas together to strengthen what they want to implement into their buildings. They see the need for something like Brave Space to be executed to help student’s mental state,” Cage said.
Rosado met with Bacon at the end of January in hopes of continuing the conversation.
“We need to get into more schools. We want to be a response. We are not on anyone’s team except for the students because we want them to be healthy and in spaces where they can thrive,” Rosado said.