San Luis Obispo High School has landed in the national TV spotlight for its innovative approach to reducing stress among students.
NBC's "Today" show featured the school and its Reach club, which teaches kids how to cope with anxiety, in a video segment that aired Friday morning. The coverage was part of "Today's" monthlong series recognizing April as Stress Awareness Month.
"It was wonderful for our students and our school because it gave a different perspective to a national audience," San Luis Obispo High principal Leslie O'Connor said Friday afternoon.
He said a "Today" camera crew spent most of April 3 on campus filming San Luis Obispo High students and staff. The shoot coincided with spring break.
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In the 6-minute-long segment, titled "Kids & Stress: What Every Parent Needs to Know," NBC News reporter Stephanie Gosk explores how Reach is using tools such as meditation and mindfulness to help students' mental health.
"It’s ranked one of America’s happiest places to live — laidback and beautiful — but even here, in San Luis Obispo, California, the teenagers still get stressed out," Gosk says. "So the high school is tackling the problem head on.”
In the video, the reporter chats with O'Connor and Bay Area psychotherapist Gina Biegel, who works with Reach club members along with counselor Shelley Benson and librarian and club adviser Jennifer Sawyer. Biegel is the author of the book “Be Mindful & Stress Less: 50 Ways to Deal with Your (Crazy) Life," published in February.
Gosk also talks to Ana O'Sullivan, whose 16-year-old son, Tomas, committed suicide in 2016.
According to a Legacy.com obituary, the San Luis Obispo High student "chose to end his life peacefully despite many years of support and treatment for mental health challenges," including "depression and social anxiety."
"There’s a small part of me that says, 'This (club) is for you and I’m sorry we didn’t have it when you needed it,' " O'Sullivan says, referring to her late son.
O'Connor described Reach, now in its second year, as a key component of the school's mission to get students more involved.
"It's innovative and progressive. It’s also much-needed in all schools," he said, adding that the club has increased students, teachers and staff members' "willingness to talk about mental stress and wellness. That's really powerful on a high school campus."
Recent efforts include bringing therapy dogs to campus around test time and encouraging students to share "kindness cards" — postcards with uplifting messages.
The "Today" video shows students putting Post-it Notes on lockers bearing positive statements such as "You are amazing" and "You are enough."
When kids feel included and accepted, O'Connor said, "they’re going to be much more productive and much better students."