Written by Tone Yao Lee
On Feb. 6, the Palo Alto Youth Council hosted its first ever “In This Together Forum” at the Mitchell Park Community Center. Promoting mental health awareness and empathy, the forum attracted members from both inside and outside the school community.
“This forum, we’re addressing the issues that most teens are facing these days, and we really want to help them,” freshman Akhil Kumar said.
PAYC—a group of 21 Gunn and Paly students—put on this forum. This organization has been working together for the entire school year and is headed by senior president Elinor Aspegren and senior vice president Albert Phan. “We’ve been going at this event since the beginning of this school year,” Phan said. “Most of our meetings recently have been committed to the event.
The Palo Alto Youth Council had high expectations going into the event. 85 people RSVP’d and 51 more said that they might come. “I’m just hoping a lot of people come, because it can really impact a lot of people in Palo Alto,” Phan said.
The forum lasted for three hours and composed of three main sections, starting off with dialogue circles. There were five dialogue circles in total, each covering a different topic. Attendees chose a circle and discussed the circle’s theme for 25 minutes before rotating to a different circle. “[The dialogue circles had] different categories that created awareness for daily life choices, dealing with stress, building strong relationships, tackling mental illness, helping a friend in need and just overall stress that can come from school, extracurriculars and social life,” Kumar said.
Following dialogue circles was empathy hour, during which students and parents mingled and reflected on what they had discussed.
To conclude, a student and alumni panel were asked questions about their experiences in high school to promote discussion in the teen community about empathy and raise awareness about issues among teenagers. Alternate secretary junior Dhara Yu was impressed by the panel. “I think the most enriching thing for me was hearing from Palo Alto Unified School District alumni,” Yu said. “They have a unique perspective, as they’ve experienced what it’s like to be a high school student, but also are a step removed.”
The forum received a lot of positive feedback from the people who attended, including Student Body Vice President senior Cole McFaul, who participated in dialogue circles and the student alum panel.
“I’ve never really worked with the Palo Alto Youth Council before, but I think that it’s great that they’re talking about these issues–mental health, wellness and empathy,” McFaul said. “I think that you can always be hit with these situations and never expect it at all, so even if you’re laidback and never experienced stress, and suddenly something happens to you really quickly, it’s really important to know these strategies.”
According to Kumar, planning the event was smooth, but there was one major setback going into the event: attendance. “It was hard to reach out to teens and have them take the extra step to come,” Kumar said. “We always seek participation in our event, but it would have been nicer if the turnout of people were slightly higher.”
Despite a few challenges with the forum, PAYC has high hopes for the future. “As for future plans, we’re considering organizing another forum later this year with better advertising,” Yu said.