Forget paper hearts and cinnamon candy, this year Myrtle Philip Community School will celebrate Valentine’s Day with a drum circle.
But it won’t be your run-of-the-mill hippie beach party; the school-wide drumming is part of an initiative called Keep the Beat for Mental Health that helps to break down the stigma attached to mental illness.
“I’m a musician,” said principal Jeff Maynard. “This is something I’ve been working with the kids on with drumming and playing in a drum circle. It’s been part of our curriculum in the school. (The event) was a nice, natural fit… I think there’s a really nice tie-in with Valentine’s Day and showing compassion for other people and raising awareness of mental health.”
The event was the idea of Lulu Leathley, who facilitates drum circles and music making to benefit a variety of people, after she met Whistler’s Ginny Dennehy — who runs The Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation with her husband, Kerry, in memory of their 17-year-old son who committed suicide in 2001 after suffering from depression — at a week-long yoga retreat. Touched by Dennehy’s story, Leathley wanted to help.
“I always wanted to introduce teachers and kids in school to what I do, facilitating percussion and rhythm, so they could get music in their classrooms.” Leathley said. “It dawned on me that Keep the Beat for Mental Health could work with (the Dennehys). So Ginny and I met with the school district and they told their teachers. Jeff Maynard took it up.”
While several other schools in the area were interested, they felt the event would be better highlighted later in the year. Maynard, though, said he liked the idea of hosting it on Feb. 14 and decided to forge ahead with MPCS launching the program. “The kids have been learning about how to listen to each other, and how to play with each other and cooperate in a musical setting,” Maynard said. “Today we talked about how to help the younger kids follow along in the drum circle — keeping it simple for them, a nice simple beat.”
On Valentine’s Day, the older kids in the school will lead the younger students in drumming. Each will write on a slip of paper for whom they are drumming in an effort to learn about compassion. The students will also be talking about the idea of mental health. “For younger kids, talking about mental health is talking about feelings of worry and anxiety and even feeling healthy yourself, feeling comfortable in your own skin and comfortable with your thoughts and talking about your thoughts,” Maynard said. “Those are all aspects of mental health, not just dealing with the issues, but understanding the ways to create a healthy body and mind.”
Dennehy said she hopes the event will become an annual part of Valentine’s Day celebrations in local schools. “Everybody’s got to be engaged and open up about the stigma behind mental health and realize it’s OK to talk about it,” she said. “If you’re having anxiety, don’t be afraid to seek help. So many people wait until it’s almost a crisis situation. If we bring it forward, introduce some tools so kids have this in their bag, they’ll know how to deal with it.”