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Health class overhaul | GW student develops new curriculum to better integrate mental health

Kyrah Altman was inspired to revolutionize health education after the Newtown, CT shooting

WASHINGTON -- 22-year-old Kyrah Altman, a senior at George Washington University, is on a mission to revolutionize health education across the country.

It's a purpose that was born out of an event many of us will never forget, the Newtown, CT shooting.

RELATED: Newtown marks tragic anniversary with quiet reflection

“I came home from school. I saw the faces of the victims… and I was so upset, I was so heartbroken, and one of the victims actually looked similar to my younger sister… and I thought how can we prevent such tragedy and violence?” said Altman.

A sophomore in high school at the time, Kyrah and some classmates decided to start in the classroom, forming the non-profit, LEAD, Inc. to address mental health education.

LEAD stands for Let's Empower, Advocate, and Do!

“I think people assume that mental health is being talked about in health education classes, because it’s all over the news…but this is a fallacy…health education frameworks and standards all over the US are 20 to 50 years outdated," said Kyrah.

Her team of clinicians and educators developed what she says is the nation's first wellness curriculum for pre-K through 12, called the Health Educator Toolkit.

Kyrah herself is no stranger to the struggle of navigating the three circles that comprise the toolkit: personal health, interpersonal health and community health.

“As a high schooler, many people didn’t know that I was struggling with mental health challenges, because externally, I was an overachiever, class president, homecoming queen, all of that great stuff, but back home and in my personal life, I was really struggling to feel healthy and function in school," said Kyrah.

Credit: LEAD, Inc.

She says the toolkit is already helping students with similar stories back in her hometown in Leominster, Massachusetts, where they piloted the program.

“A parent actually called the health educator that was piloting our curriculum and told her that her son actually did not attempt suicide because of the information he learned in our class, so we know that we’re already saving lives.”

That's the goal--saving lives like the 26 lost in Newtown, and lives like hers--students enduring their own internal battles to survive.

The next school planning to pilot the toolkit is Bishop McNamara High School in Prince George's County.

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