NEW YORK - A charter school system that got its start in Harlem is setting a new standard for mental health care on campuses everywhere.
The first Success Academy students started as kindergarteners in Harlem in 2006. Now, one of the most popular electives in the high school is the mental health club.
Club president Segnonble Yoanson has seen the change in himself and his peers, who came out of the pandemic and came together to form the student-led club in 2021.
"It just felt so enjoyable and intellectual and like safe," Yoanson said. "It was a community that I wanted to be a part of and even have a hand in influencing."
The academy offers a variety of advantages the students otherwise would not have. From kindergarten, they are admitted through a random lottery, and all six graduating classes have left with a 100% college acceptance rate.
Success Academy has expanded from its original Harlem building and now operates 53 school serving more than 20,000 students from low-income neighborhoods around the city. Each location has its own social and emotional learning specialist and is designed with wellbeing in mind.
"People are starting to realize and identify their emotions and take charge and try and fix whatever it is that they're trying to fix in their lives," said SEL Specialist Motolani Odukogbe.
Vice President Alexa Veloz credits the club for improving her home life and changing her career aspiration.
"When I joined the mental health club, I realized I wanted to help people," Veloz said. "So I kind of want to be a nurse now."
Success students also have access to a platform that has professional mental health help available 24/7, called UWill. Veloz makes regular appointments when she needs a boost beyond the club.
"If I'm having like self-body issues on this certain day, I'm like, okay, I want I want to work on that," Veloz said. "I feel like I'm stressed, I can work on that as well. And I just like how we can pick and choose who we want to talk to."
Last year Success started offering UWill to its middle schools, becoming the first in the country to do so. This semester, 81% more students signed up.
From confidential conversations to communal chats, these kids can confidently chart their own path to success.
"Even just telling a friend, 'I'm going through this,' is really what is going to get us to a better future," Yoanson added.
To learn more about Success Academy, click here.
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