Teen’s mental health project creates high school dance and movement room – The Morgan Messenger

Jillian Fortney (right), a junior from Berkeley Springs High School, and other members of the high school dance team paint the new high school dance hall as part of Fortney’s “Moving for Teen Mental Health” project Girl Scout Gold Award. Photo by Holli McCumbee

by Kate Evans

Berkeley Springs High School Junior Jillian Fortney created a dance and purposeful movement room at Berkeley Springs High School for her Girl Scout Gold Award “Moving for Teen Mental Health” project. Fortney also disseminates information about teen mental health and ways for teens to cope with anxiety, stress, and depression.

A Girl Scout Gold Award is the equivalent of a Boy Scout Eagle Scout project. Fortney has been a Girl Scout for 12 years.

Fortney has also been a dancer for 11 years and has been taking dance lessons at Berkeley Springs High School with high school dance teacher Holli McCumbee for three years. Fortney and the high school dance team raised just under $8,000 for the dance hall through a colorful walk at Cacapon State Park this summer, making and selling t-shirts and donations from organizations local.

All of the money goes to the dance hall — for flooring, paint, bars, mirrors and other dance and movement equipment McCumbee needs, Fortney said. The Lions Club is paying for the bars and the mirrors will be installed next week.

The high school dance team painted the dance hall, and Fortney, McCumbee, Fortney’s mother, father, and grandmother, and Kelly Smith laid down the new Harlequin vinyl flooring for the dance floor.

Movement as balance

Fortney said she has a diagnosed anxiety disorder and focused movement and flow are her primary outlets. She dances, runs for the track, reads and does yoga and painting as forms of flow.

Fortney also paints shoes as part of her small Instagram business Joggers by Jillian.

These activities help Fortney manage his panic attacks and stress levels and balance his mood, she said. She still feels very calm and happy afterwards. Focused movement is also known as flow and being completely immersed in your activities and at peace, Fortney said during a presentation to the school board about his work.

Mental health statistics

High school students with mental health issues are more than twice as likely to drop out of school.

“Untreated mental health disorders can disrupt sleep, energy levels, concentration, interests, and can overall make normal functioning difficult,” Fortney said.

“Adolescents who have better mental and emotional health have better physical health, fewer relationship problems, and are less likely to abuse substances as adults,” she said.

The majority of mental health issues emerge during adolescence, Fortney said. One in five American teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 suffers from at least one form of mental health disorder. More than 2.5 million young people in America suffer from severe major depression.

Fortney said she is passionate about dance and movement.

“I believe that dance, art and movement are for everyone. This room will give so many students the opportunity to dance and move in a safe, well-equipped room while giving them the tools to improve their mental health,” Fortney added.

Berkeley Springs High School offers many extracurricular activities that include dance, choir, band, and the arts as well as many sports and clubs. Fortney said she wanted to share with her peers what has worked for her in managing her anxiety and breaking the stigma of mental health disorders.

Dance program

Holli McCumbee is in her 18th year teaching dance at Berkeley Springs High School. She teaches several levels of dance as well as health and road safety courses. McCumbee has 42 dance students this year.

The entry-level class allows students to try many dance forms such as jazz, ballet, tap, ballroom, swing, line dancing, hip hop and contemporary dance, said McCumbee.

Higher levels of dance lessons allow students to pursue independent studies in a genre of dance that interests them.

McCumbee was thrilled when she got her own room for teaching dance and movement last year after sharing a room with wrestling for many years. She appreciates Fortney’s project so much. McCumbee said it would expand their dance department so much and it was a dream come true.

McCumbee hopes to hold dance classes and movement workshops with community yoga, zumba, tai chi and hula hooping instructors. She wants to buy some tumbling mats for acrobatics and acro-dance, a new kind of dance.

“Kids love it,” McCumbee said.

Fortney will receive her Girl Scout Gold Award for her project within weeks of installing the dance hall mirrors and submitting her final report. Fortney said she is thrilled that dance and mental health is shared throughout our community and will continue.

School board vice president Pete Gordon said he was grateful for Fortney’s community service project and its efforts to give back to the community. School board member John Rowland said Fortney’s teen mental health statistics were compelling.

Fortney is a great role model for students, said school superintendent Kristen Tuttle.

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