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OCM BOCES students play key role in Cortland Mental Health Awareness Walk


May 8, 2024

OCM BOCES students play key role in Cortland Mental Health Awareness Walk

Students from four OCM BOCES programs in Cortland contributed significantly to organizing, supporting, advertising, presenting, and participating in the community-wide Cortland County Mental Health Awareness Walk on May 7.

A record 250 community members participated in the 12-year-old event, which kicked off at 11:30 a.m. with 30 community resource tables assembled inside and outside the former Parker School on Madison Street. Later, after speeches from local leaders and student helpers, walkers took to the streets at noon to make a statement about the importance of mental health.


Health Occupations Program - Cortlandville Campus

Students in this two-year Career & Technical Education program played a key role in organizing and promoting the event as a partner with the Cortland County Mental Health Department. Throughout the school year, they attended organizational meetings, promoted mindfulness at school through positive messages on morning announcements, and researched their senior projects to coincide with the May 7 walk and its cause. Instructor Laura Swayze said students also created a logo for hats and other giveaways.

Students’ projects filled a quarter of the Parker School gym on the day of the walk. Seven seniors set up tri-folds and stress-relieving activities to share with guests who strolled from table to table. Each project focused on how stress affects major body systems, including the cardiovascular, integumentary (skin, hair, nails, and glands), nervous, reproductive, respiratory, urinary, and endocrine systems (glands that make hormones). Their stress-relieving activities included bubble wands, coloring sheets, homemade “stress balls,” a sensory bin, breathing beads, and bags of slime to touch and make.

Students said they were aware of the physical harm created by stress, but not to the degree revealed in their research.

“Once it affects your nervous system, then it affects all of your body systems,” explained Haylee Parker, a Cortland senior who wants to work as a phlebotomist.

Isaac Heath of Homer focused on the endocrine system and the negative effects of stress in creating hormonal imbalances. He thinks the stigma of mental health conditions has declined, but more work needs to be done to get resources to more people. Organizations in Cortland, he said, seem exceptionally supportive of people with mental health issues.

“We have plenty of resources, and everyone’s willing to help out,” said Isaac, who was also invited to help kick off the walk from the main stage.

Dakota Hartwick of Cortland focused on the urinary system, where stress can lead to infections and other disruptive, uncomfortable, and potentially long-term problems. Mariah Thompson of McGraw focused on the reproduction system, where stress can induce a multitude of harmful effects, from fertility problems in men to low birth weight in newborns. 

“It’s scary to think this could possibly be me someday,” she said.

Other students said they had personal connections to their research projects. Bella Short of Cortland focused on the cardiovascular system and stress because her family has a history of heart-related ailments. Kristal Sweeney of Cortland Christian Academy experienced a long list of skin issues after the death of a sibling. Desiree Hobart of Homer chose the respiratory system because she has asthma and wanted to learn more about the impact of stress on her condition.

“This is a good opportunity to learn more and how to get the help you need,” she said.


Cortland Alternative School - Port Watson Street Campus

On the morning of the walk, students at Cortland Alternative School hoisted signs and walked around the city to support mental health awareness and the availability of the national 988 crisis helpline. Dozens of drivers waved at the procession and honked their horns in support. Students traveled from the school to the courthouse and back again.

Social worker and Friends of Rachel (FOR) Club advisor Jherrett Maroney said the 988 posters represented a collaboration between FOR Club students and Ryan Chatfield’s health class. Health students created hand-drawn posters carried during the walk and provided string and backing for the largest print posters; FOR Club students used Microsoft Office flyer templates to create larger posters. Some were printed on legal-size paper; even larger ones were printed at Walmart. 

After their morning walk to support mental health awareness, students and staff shared their posters with the Cortland County Mental Health Department for the community-wide walk in the afternoon. The posters were displayed behind the registration table and taped on gymnasium doors.


Culinary & Pastry Arts Program - Cortlandville Campus

Culinary students from the Cortlandville Campus baked nearly 500 cookies for the community-wide walk and handed them out before joining the event. Culinary instructor Jamie Reed said students also made lunch for those students who helped with the event and stuck around afterward to help clean up.


Seven Valleys New Tech Academy - Port Watson Street Campus

Donning bright blue T-shirts with the words “Mental Health Awareness Walk,” a group of students from Seven Valleys New Tech Academy in Cortland joined the community-wide walk with school counselor Elizabeth Henrichs

“It was a beautiful day for FOR Club to participate in Cortland County’s Mental Health Walk,” Henrichs said. “As hope is our FOR Club theme for May, we hope everyone has access to mental health resources and can take care of their mental health just as they would their physical health.”