Local Lifestyle, School News

Teen’s mental health project creates high school dance & movement room

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

by Kate Evans

Jillian Fortney, Berkeley Springs High School junior,  has created a dance and focused movement room at Berkeley Springs High School for her Girl Scout Gold Award “Moving for Teen Mental Health” project. Fortney is also spreading 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 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 room through a Color Walk at Cacapon State Park this summer, making and selling t-shirts and donations from local organizations.

All of the money is going for the dance room-for flooring, paint, barres, mirrors and other dance and movement equipment that McCumbee needs, Fortney said. The Lions Club is paying for the barres and the mirrors are being installed next week.

The high school dance team painted the dance room and Fortney, McCumbee, Fortney’s mom, dad and grandmother and Kelly Smith put down the new Harlequin vinyl flooring for the dance floor.

Movement as balance

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

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

These activities help Fortney with her panic attacks and stress levels and balance her mood,  she said.  She always feels very calm and happy afterwards. Focused movement is also known as flow  and is being completely immersed in your activities and at peace, Fortney said during a presentation to the school board about her 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 it difficult to function normally,” Fortney said.

“Teens who have greater 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 challenges emerge during the teen years, Fortney said. One in five U.S. teens between ages 12 and 18 suffer from at least one form of a mental health disorder.  Over 2.5 million youth in America have 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 and well-equipped room while also 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 arts along with many sports and clubs.  Fortney said she wanted to share with her peers what had worked for her in dealing with her anxiety and to break down the stigma of mental health disorders.

Dance program

Holli McCumbee is in her 18th year of teaching dance at Berkeley Springs High School.  She teaches mutiple levels of dance along with health and driver’s safety education.  McCumbee has 42 dance students this year.

The first level class lets students try out many forms of dance such as jazz, ballet, tap, ballroom, swing, line dancing, hip hop and contemporary dance, McCumbee said.

Higher levels of dance class let students pursue independent study in a genre of dance in which they’re interested.

McCumbee was thrilled when she got her own room for dance and movement instruction last year after sharing a room with wrestling for many years.  She is so appreciative of Fortney’s project.  McCumbee said it will grow their dance department so much and is a dream come true.

McCumbee hopes to arrange dance classes and movement workshops with community instructors in Yoga, Zumba, Tai Chi and  hula hooping. She wants to purchase a few tumbling mats for acrobatics and acro-dance, a new dance genre.

“Kids love it,” McCumbee said.

Fortney will receive her Girl Scout Gold Award for her project in a few weeks after the dance room mirrors are installed and she turns in her final report.  Fortney said she’s excited that dance and mental health are being shared throughout our community and will continue.

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

Fortney is a great role model for students, said School Superintendent Kristen Tuttle.