Growing Partnerships and Supporting Youth Mental Health in Montgomery County, MD

November 1, 2023 by Alicia Bowyer, MPH

The power of strong partnerships between the healthcare and education sector are vast for reasons seen evident in many of the school health efforts at Children’s National. From efforts on improving attendance to supporting career and technical education and care coordination, the products of being a coordinated effort in supporting our young people are far reaching.  In a recent and budding partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Children’s National had the privilege to support the school district in tackling mental health and the negative impacts of social media on self-esteem in their teen girls at their first Girls’ Summit.

Overview of the Girls’ Summit

The MCPS Girls’ Summit grew out of the apparent and growing need to support the wellbeing of teen girls. In a preliminary meeting, MCPS Medical Officer, Dr. Patricia Kapunan, shared that the recent trends published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the record levels of experiences of sadness, suicide risk, and other poor mental health indicators in teen girls were being strongly reflected in their local data and experiences with their students. Dr. Kapunan’s Executive Assistant, Stephanie Iszard, prioritized this pressing issue and developed the whole event bringing the topics of social media, self-esteem, and mental health into open conversation, and then took the event further to also be a time to celebrate and cultivate girlhood and positive self-esteem.

Taking place on October 21st, the event drew in approximately 900 attendees consisting of girls grades 3-12 and their caregivers. It was kicked-off with a screening of the film Screenagers and discussion with the film creator for the middle and high school students, and a workshop with Girls on Run for the 3rd-5th graders. (As a side not if you have not seen Screenagers it is worth a watch). Following the kick-offs, were sessions that Children’s National fellows from the Department of Adolescent Medicine including, Drs. Ana Torga, Alexis Exum, Dara Jackson, and Catherine Slomka, and psychologist Dr. Stephanie Merwin hosted on topics ranging from healthy eating to knowing the signs of anxiety and depression.

I will share that sitting in one session around non-suicidal self-injury and suicide, the impact was palpable. A room that started off as quiet and cautious turned into one of open sharing and even laughter from both students and their caregivers. And that is just one example of the noticeable impact that day had on those that attended.

In addition to the medical expertise contributed by the hospital, it was a pleasure to provide additional support through our Children’s National resource table alongside my colleague Teresa Obazee, as well as in the preparatory steps to assist in actualizing the event with School Programs Manager, Julia DeAngelo.

Children’s National and Montgomery County Public Schools

MCPS has been clear that this was not a one and done event, and that they plan to continue to build upon the momentum of the day. In a similar vein, the hope is for our partnership to continue to grow so we can continue to share expertise, meet our young people where they are at, and make meaningful change for their health, well-being, and education. In addition, Children’s National is the current operator of School-Based Health Centers within the MCPS elementary schools and continues to support health of Montgomery County through other various efforts.

About the author

Alicia Bowyer, MPH

Community Education Specialist within the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Hospital