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Film class ‘teaching us how to be whole’

Tackling mental health, one frame at a time

Rockford — As guests file into an intimate private room at top-rated restaurant Amore Trattoria Italiana in Comstock Park, just north of Grand Rapids, Rockford High School senior Maddy Nunn is checking the settings on her professional-grade video camera. She’s planning to use light settings that match the warm-tinted, low-light vibe that characterize the restaurant’s traditional Italian atmosphere. 

Maddy is directing a team from her Advanced TV Studio class as they cover the story of a Valentine’s Day event for widows and widowers at Amore for their school’s news show, “Beyond the Rock.” She heard about the event from an aunt who posted about the special dinner on Facebook and thought it would be a great story to tell.

Having produced several videos this school year about student mental health, Maddy and her team were drawn to the story in part because it illustrates how important it is to encourage others when they’ve experienced loss. 

“This is probably one of the toughest holidays for people who’ve lost their spouse, because everyone is talking about love,” she said. In interviews with the widows, “some of them talk like, ‘It’s been hard on me in this way, but a big event like this is helping me (get through it).’”

Jenna Arcidiacono, Amore’s founder and head chef, has a daughter at Rockford High School and is thrilled to see some of her classmates covering the Valentine’s event. 

“It’s so incredible what they do in the media department” at the high school, Arcidiacono said. “I love that they’re up on this kind of event. It’s a great story about mental health and being kind to one another. It’s an important thing to learn, and even students need to know where to go if they lose a parent.”

Classes Help Improve Mental Health

After Maddy’s team captures footage of the dinner and an interview with Chef Jenna, they sit down to enjoy some of Amore’s famous lasagna soup, arancini and Italian bread. When the conversation turns to the mental health aspect of their video project, each of the team’s four students becomes animated. They’re quick to jump in and talk about their own struggles with anxiety and depression — even before the pandemic — and how their media production classes have given them tools to cope. 

Lizzie MacIntosh, a senior who is very open about her struggles with mental health and plans to study psychology in college, is using video to let other people know it’s OK to struggle too.

“I’ve turned my pain into purpose (using video), and it’s let me help other people going through the same thing,” she said.

For Maddy, skills she’s built in public speaking and interviewing in her broadcast classes have helped her deal with overwhelming social anxiety.

“I was literally the most (socially) anxious person on the entire planet,” said Maddy. “(Media teachers Kris DeYoung and Jason Springer) have helped me come out of my shell as a person and learn how to talk to people. They’re not just teaching us how to be a good broadcaster, and a good editor and shooter, but they are teaching us how to be a whole person.”

‘I’ve turned my pain into purpose (using video), and it’s let me help other people going through the same thing.’

— Lizzie MacIntosh

DeYoung, Rockford High School’s telecommunications teacher, said he is passionate about mental health and is intentional when it comes to tackling the topic in class. 

“We really try to make the room a safe environment where kids can learn, have fun, but also be themselves and hopefully not be afraid to share their true reality,” he said. 

He said that even before the pandemic, he noticed mental health challenges increasing amongst his students, and when asked to give a speech about their lives in front of class, they’d often bring up personal mental health crises.

“From anxiety to depression, to suicide attempts and so many more traumatic things, it is always very eye-opening, and always such an experience for the students to listen to each others stories and generate some good discussion and perspective,” he said. 

From left, Lizzie MacIntosh, Maddy Nunn, Maddie Hosford and Trina Varano with Chef Jenna, center, after they finish taping an interview for their news story

Heading To The Awards Show

This school year, students in DeYoung’s media classes have told stories of athletes struggling with mental health, hosted a mental health talk show and produced a variety of PSAs to help break the stigma around mental health issues at school. Seventeen of their videos are currently nominated for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters student awards, several of which have mental health themes. 

In fact, Maddy’s video about suicide preventention, “Notice Me,” is nominated for best public service announcement (Okay2say-sponsored category). The MAB’s student awards take place on March 15 in Lansing, where a number of other mental health-related videos produced by Rockford media students are also nominated for awards. 

“When I first heard that ‘Notice Me’ was nominated and that it was doing quite well, I was very excited because it’s a PSA that I had brainstormed all on my own. I know our competition always does amazing work, but if ‘Notice Me’ were to win, that would just mean the world to me,” Maddy said. 

At the end of the day, though, Maddy is mostly excited to be able to attend the award ceremony for the first time in person with her classmates, whom she likens to family. 

“BTR has helped me through a lot of difficult times in my life, and my classmates and teachers have helped me to become the woman I am today, and they have taught me so much about the importance of being yourself.”

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Allison Poosawtsee
Allison Poosawtsee
Allison Poosawtsee is a reporter covering Rockford Public Schools and Kent City Community Schools. She has spent 15+ years working and writing in the education context, first for her alma mater, Calvin University, and then for various businesses and nonprofit organizations in the Grand Rapids area. As a student journalist, she served as editor-in-chief of Calvin’s student newspaper where she garnered several Michigan Collegiate Press Association awards for her work. Allison is a proud parent of two Grand Rapids Public Schools scholars and a passionate advocate for the value of public education.


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