Photos of four student presenters.

High school’s ‘Friday Fun’ wins national competition, earns $5,000 prize

Penn Manor High School has won the top national prize for a program implemented this past school year to encourage students to bond with their peers and open up about their mental health challenges.

“Friday Fun: Flexin’ To De-Stress and Check In on Our Mental Health” won the top prize and a $5,000 award in a nationwide competition sponsored by Invent2Prevent, Edventure Partners, and the Department Of Homeland Security’s Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3). High schools and colleges were challenged to implement programs with the ultimate goal of preventing violence or eradicating hate.

“We are beyond thrilled to have been chosen for first prize,” said Maria Vita, a high school psychology teacher and advisor for the high school’s Aevidum Club, which organized and implemented the “Friday Fun” campaign. 

Aevidum’s mission is to erase the stigma of depression and other mental health issues facing teens.

All grades, 9-12, at the high school participated in “Friday Fun” activities on April 12, including team-building exercises, door decorating, board games and hallway handball, creating friendship bracelets, and other activities.

Team-building games included Fast Friends, in which students share personal information about themselves to build closeness, and Human Knot, in which students link hands with two other people. Students also got to interact with KPets therapy dogs on hand for the event.

At the start of these activities, students watched a video explaining 988, a number they can text for help if they are experiencing mental health difficulties. At the close of Flex period, students completed surveys on their experience.

According to survey results, 92 percent of students reported a pleasant experience during Friday Fun, including feelings of joy, pride, a sense of harmony, contentment, and relaxation. After Friday Fun, there was a 35 percent increase in the percentage of students who felt comfortable about seeking help from an adult at Penn Manor for their personal struggles.

After the program was completed, Penn Manor applied to be considered for a prize, along with 56 other programs from across the U.S. “Friday Fun” was named one of three finalists, earning an all-expenses-paid trip for four students and two adults to Washington, D.C., from June 24-27 to meet other finalists and present the program to a panel of judges.

Student presenters were 2024 Penn Manor graduates Fatuma Mussa, project team leader, and Kayla Shertzer; and incoming juniors Paige Hoyt, reports manager, and Kaylee Brackbill. 

“The students presented in front of a prestigious panel of judges,” Ms. Vita said. “One judge represented the American Psychological Association, and three were part of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Accompanying the students in Washington were Ms. Vita and Danielle Croft, Aevidum advisor and reading teacher at Marticville Middle School, who helped the students prepare for their presentation.

Congratulations to these students and their advisors on earning this award!

  • The four student presenters with their award
    From left, student presenters Fatuma Mussa, Paige Hoyt, Kaylee Brackbill and Kayla Shertzer.