Unity Charter School of Morristown Joins Stigma-Free Initiative

Published on June 17, 2019

K-8 School Formally Endorses Countywide Effort to End Stigma Related to Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

The Unity Charter School in Morristown, a tuition-free public elementary school (grades K-8), today (June 12) formally joined the countywide Stigma-Free effort in Morris County to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Unity students and teachers hold up a banner with the phrase Unity Proud to Be Stigma-Free

At a special event at the school, students from all grades at Unity Charter signed a "Stigma-Free" banner and took the Stigma-Free pledge (https://morriscountystigmafree.org/take-the-pledge/).

Unity Charter joins the Montville, Chester, Hanover Township and Hanover Park Regional schools districts previously as educational members of the Stigma-Free initiative in Morris County.

Unity students sign the Stigma-Free banner

That Stigma-Free movement also includes 35 Morris County towns, law enforcement, nonprofit agencies, hospitals, and faith-based groups in the Stigma-Free initiative.

"To support the learning of all students, we work diligently to create a nurturing learning environment. To do so we focus on developing the whole child, which includes their social and emotional well-being,'' said Unity Charter Executive Director Connie Sanchez.

"Respecting people for who they are without attaching labels is a non-negotiable, when working with our students and team members,'' Sanchez added.

The three-year-old grass roots Stigma-Free movement recognizes the high prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders in our communities. It promotes re-education and understanding that can lead to treatment and recovery " minus the stigma associated with these illnesses.

Leaders of this initiative from across the county are now working with school districts and faith-based groups to become active participants, hosting a variety of programs, such as the upcoming "Breaking Stigma: Building a Strong Healthy Community'' arts and music festival set for June 22 on the Morristown Green. https://www.lifecenterstage.org/

As part of the countywide initiative, residents are urged to take the Stigma Free Pledge: https://morriscountystigmafree.org/take-the-pledge/

Two Unity boys sign the Stigma-Free banner

The Morris County Board of Freeholders in 2016 passed a resolution (joining several towns that had initiated the movement), designating Morris County as a Stigma-Free County and asked all of the county's towns to consider enrolling.

"We are pleased that the Unity Charter School has formally joined the Stigma-Free initiative,'' said Morris County Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo, the county governing board's Stigma-Free liaison. "They already have been active as leaders in the Stigma-Free effort, and we look forward to their continuing participation and leadership.''

The educational philosophy at the Unity Charter School is to offer learning that spans beyond textbooks and which prepares students to face real-world challenges. The goal is to foster a culture of creativity, innovation and change that inspires a future generation of thinkers and doers.

Barbara Smith, a Unity Charter School counselor, in April briefed the school staff on the countywide Stigma-Free initiative. Subsequently, a task force was created with the School Climate Team and students from SAFE (Students Advocating For Equality) to plan to join the initiative.

During class meetings in May, Stigma-Free student ambassadors met with all students to share the importance of becoming a "Stigma Free School.'' Unity Charter's entire student population, K-8, participated in a variety of age appropriate activities and discussion in preparation for Tuesday's signing of the Stigma Free resolution.

To learn more about Unity Charter School, visit: https://unitycharterschool.org/students/

For information on the disease of mental illness, visit www.nami.org and for information on NAMI's national Stigma Free effort, visit: https://www.nami.org/stigmafree

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace which results from the judgment by others. When individuals are labeled by their illness, they experience judgment and prejudice. Stigma brings experiences and feelings of shame, embarrassment, distress, hopelessness and reluctance to seek or accept help.

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