SALT LAKE CITY — As students, parents and others began filing into the auditorium at Salem Hills High School Thursday evening, Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson slipped out to change his socks.
He had arrived wearing a perfectly good pair sporting a beehive, the logo of the Deseret News, at this screening of the documentary film "Angst." It's one of many showings we're sponsoring featuring the struggle youth are having with anxiety and we couple it with a discussion and question-and-answer session that Boyd moderates.
Here at Salem Hills, something important is happening, and something as simple as a pair of socks has a way of speaking to a crowd and it put the focus exactly where it belonged for the night's discussion.
The high school is the home of the Skyhawks, and the newly acquired striped socks featured two wings that flank three important words:
"One of Us."
So a hearty round of applause rose from the auditorium as Boyd lifted his pant cuff to reveal he, too, had embraced "one of us," the burgeoning motto of the high school that emerged last year as the school works to help students battle the crippling effects of anxiety and other difficulties that students here (and everywhere) are experiencing: depression, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, even post-traumatic stress.
"It's something I’m very passionate about. We fight this battle hard at our school," Principal Bart Peery told me as we spoke a day after the event. He then offered the reason for urgency. "We've had four suicides in the past five years at our school."
Helping students understand that they are "one of us" has become the principal's top priority. Or as he puts it, "it's our No. 1 focus."
"One of Us" comes from the song by the group New Politics, and Principal Peery eases into the lyrics as easily as he would any school fight song.
"Everybody needs a place to call their home.
Everybody needs someone to call their own
Even when you're lonely know you're not alone
You're one of us, one of us, one. of. us."
Other high schools are fighting the same battles. Here at Salem Hills the dedication of the principal and the staff is clear: There were 1,000 people attending the evening screening, and it was just one evening event in a week full of them to start the school year.
There's a qualified member of the school staff, Corom Hughes, who is dedicated full time to helping students through these difficulties. He was on the panel discussion this past week and offered an invitation to students: Come see me.
"In the often ignored, overlooked or avoided topic of mental health, Salem Hills has a leader with a vision, a team of faculty committed to helping every student maximize their potential, parents who are engaged and a community that has clearly come together," said Matheson as he reflected on the evening and the work of Peery.
He continued: "'One of us' is more than a slogan and more than just a principle of inclusion. It is a way of being that is bringing out the best of everyone and creating an extraordinary place in Salem Hills."
I first met the principal at a showing of "Angst" in Herriman, a community also searching for answers. He was seeking ways to reach his students and the documentary by filmmaker Karin Gornick, which I first wrote about in May and again weeks later in June, is having an impact.
But the reality is help is given one by one, and you never know just what it will be that will reach someone. That's why keeping the momentum going beyond last week is a concern of the principal and of Hughes, who has "Corom's Corner" each week to help students gain the skills to manage difficult situations.2 comments on this story
"Everybody needs a place to call their home." Salem Hills High School is telling everyone, come be one of us.
Additional showings of "Angst":
• In Sandy at Jordan High School, Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m.
• In Provo at Centennial Middle School, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.
• In Holladay at Olympus High School, Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m.
• In Vernal at Vernal Middle School, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m.