‘The investment in our youth is absolutely paramount’

Students and parents speak out at MI Healthy Youth Forum.

When it was their turn to speak, a host of Mercer Island High School (MIHS) students breathed in deeply to gather their thoughts before gripping the microphone and thoroughly and wholeheartedly delving into their experiences as youth on the Island.

Featured speaker at the MI Healthy Youth Forum 2022, Jennifer Miller — author of “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” — commended the students for displaying bravery in voicing their vital insight and concerns amongst a room full of attendees at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center on Nov. 9.

As the two-hour event neared its completion, the youth stood strong at the forefront of the forum.

Following their robust breakout room discussion, MIHS senior Sophie Fischel said the students feel it’s crucial for them to spend time off the Island bubble, and “How we are kids and humans and that we’re going to make mistakes, and sometimes that’s going to have to be ours to work our way out of.”

MIHS freshman Nadia Slivinski said that it’s helpful if parents understand their kids’ point of view in order for youngsters to feel comfortable expressing themselves.

“It means a lot to us. Put yourself in our shoes and ‘What would you do?’ so that we can feel more safe in telling you things,” she told the crowd.

Fellow MIHS ninth-grader Anna Mock noted that they ask parents to offer affirmative words to students, who can be exhausted from dealing with the pressures of school.

“Even if you’re not doing Hi-Cap classes or you’re not doing everything that looks to be the best, you’re still trying your very best,” she said.

The student speakers received a round of applause from those in attendance, who included Mercer Island School District (MISD) Superintendent Fred Rundle and Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS) Administrator Tambi Cork.

Cork said the Island’s talented, bright, driven and curious kids are raised by generous, involved and committed parents and backed by a community that is devoted to the success and well-being of the youth. There’s an immense amount of hope for Island youth, however, they have been impacted by the pandemic and the mental health crisis in the United States, Cork added, while mentioning the results from the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey.

“So there’s more reason than ever to lean in and invest in these foundational skills of social-emotional well-being,” Cork said.

Rundle added: “The investment in our youth is absolutely paramount.”

At the forum, which was a YFS Healthy Youth Initiative program and welcomed teens along with parents of students in grades K-12, Miller spoke in depth via Zoom about how social-emotional learning plays a crucial role in children and teens’ success.

Her own research and the answers derived from an Island middle school and high school parent survey heavily intersected during one section of the event. Words like perseverance, determination, empathy, flexibility, nurturing, encouragement, understanding and many more were used to identify the social and emotional skills and parenting skills necessary for children’s success.

“Our hopes and dreams can be met directly by building social and emotional skills. This is such a hopeful, positive picture to me that in our everyday interactions with our children and our everyday routines with our teenagers, we can be building, reinforcing and recognizing those social and emotional skills,” said Miller, adding earlier that there is no perfect in parenting and family life, and that every family is unique in how they implement their values each day.

Middle school parent Tasha Brown said that during her breakout table with students, parents and YFS counselor Harry Brown, the group spoke, in part, about making kids always feel valued, listening to stories about their experiences and encouraging them to engage in fulfilling activities like volunteering in the community or joining a team.

Following the forum, Miller added that a hopes and dreams banner for Island children, featuring messages written by attendees, will be displayed in a community location.

“I think it’s really important that a school community and the community of parents come together and say what they truly want for their children,” said Miller, who will partner with YFS and members of the Montana State University Center for Health and Safety Culture on an online Parenting Mercer Island toolkit that Cork said they hope to launch by this spring.

In a breakout room at the MI Healthy Youth Forum 2022, Mercer Island High School students share their thoughts about living on the Island as Youth and Family Services counselor Chris Harnish listens. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

In a breakout room at the MI Healthy Youth Forum 2022, Mercer Island High School students share their thoughts about living on the Island as Youth and Family Services counselor Chris Harnish listens. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo