At-risk students finish push-up challenge

John Lazares students learn about PTSD.

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Students and staff at the John Lazares Alternative School improved their physical fitness while raising awareness about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

They recently completed the 22 Day Pushup Challenge, a viral campaign designed to bring greater attention to suicide rates among veterans.

“Our school — just like any other school in our country — has the struggle of educating our students on mental health issues, as well as helping students who are struggling with a variety of mental health issues. PTSD and trauma are a major focus for our building,” Principal Mike Bidwell said. “Many of our students struggle with trauma and the issues that come out of trauma, even if they are totally unaware of how a traumatic event is effecting them in the present day.”

The push-up challenge was an ideal way to address trauma and raise awareness while also promoting fitness — another of the school’s initiatives designed to eliminate barriers to success for the at-risk students.

“I didn’t really understand what PTSD was, but doing the 22 Day Pushup Challenge has me thinking about how many of our veterans sacrificed so much and still are,” said Travis Williams, a Carlisle senior. “I think about that every time I start doing my 22 push-ups. It’s really hard to do that many push-ups, but I know for our veterans it was harder to serve our country.”

Alternative school lead aide Ryan Cook presented the idea of issuing timed challenges to the students throughout the school year to help increase their physical fitness, as well as achieve new goals and success. His idea for the first challenge was to participate in the push-up challenge, measuring how many push-ups were completed at the beginning and end of the challenge.

“Many of our students are making positive wellness changes because of our program, but don’t really understand that they are actually getting stronger,” Cook said. “Based on the results of the challenge, I can see the students’ self-esteem going up, because they are actually doing more push-ups. They can see themselves getting more fit.”

All the students and staff who participated saw significant improvement with an overall average of 40 percent more pushups from start to finish.

“Now that we are learning about PTSD and its impact on veterans, it is really sad. I want to be someone that helps in whatever way I can. I’ve really been struggling to do the 22 push-ups, but I know it’s nothing compared to what veterans struggling with PTSD do on a daily basis,” said Aaronesha Moon, a tenth-grade student from Middletown.

“I didn’t know what PTSD was, but I do now. I really think understanding it better has motivated me to be more understanding and thankful to our veterans. I hope they get the help they need,” said Kaleb Simpkins, a senior from Little Miami High School.

The school also has groups led by counselors and social workers that focus on trauma.

“I believe that sometimes the best way to acknowledge and treat mental health issues is to realize that we are never alone. Our veterans are our true heroes and to know that even those who have sacrificed so much for our country are impacted by trauma takes some of the fear and isolation away from trauma,” Bidwell said. “Educating our students on PTSD and its impact on our veterans has a twofold purpose of educating our students on the sacrifices our veterans made for our freedom, as well as showing our students that PTSD is very real and those who suffer from it are not alone.”