The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian


This poll has ended.

Do you wear socks with your Uggs?


Sorry, there was an error loading this poll.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Empowering minds, nurturing inclusivity

Since its inception, Rebel Human has aimed to alleviate stress for all students
Olivia Tankevicius

As Superintendent Dr. Marcus Campbell named his strategic priorities for District 202 for the 2021-22 school year, social-emotional learning was at the top of the list. Students would be returning to school after a little over a year of hybrid learning, and for many, it would be their first time ever inside of the school building.  Prioritizing wellness had always been important to ETHS, but the lingering impacts of the pandemic forced administrators to reinforce and improve their standing mental health supports.

Especially now during the pandemic, we’ve been really working at trying to figure out ‘how do we bring more mindfulness practices to the student body at large?” Campbell said. 

As part of this approach, ETHS offers the Signs of Suicide program for freshmen, as well as Mental Health Awareness Month. For these programs, outside groups come in and assist the school in setting up presentations for the student body. For example, PEER Services, a group that provides preventative substance abuse education and counseling for people struggling with substance abuse, partnered with the school to present drug education to physical education classes earlier this year. 

“We’re working on trying to broaden our scope, so we do a lot of work. … There are a lot of different things, a variety of things that we try to do that support students, all students,” said Mia Lavizzo, the Associate Principal for Student Services.

These efforts were in response to a need that was not just speculated on, but demonstrated. A student survey conducted during the 2020-21 school year showed that 33 percent of all ETHS students said that stress impacted their daily lives for at least 11 days of the past month, and 30 percent reported feeling sad or hopeless most days for at least two weeks. Due to these responses, specific mental health interventions were developed in an effort to promote positive social, emotional and behavioral skills for the entire student body, regardless of whether or not an individual is at risk.

In addition to these long-standing pillars of mental health intervention, administrators sought out something new for students: Rebel Human. 

The Rebel Human organization was founded in 2019 by Jenny Arrington, who serves as Wellness Advisor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Dr. Tait Medina, a Ph.D. in sociology. Their vision for the organization was to help people take control of their physiology and mental health; it offers classes, retreats, online wellness courses and private wellness coaching. However, the branch of Rebel Human used specifically by ETHS is entitled Rebel Human for Schools, a web-based learning platform that incorporates ideas about breath manipulation and wellness into a concise curriculum meant to be used in academic contexts like ETHS. Students can access Rebel Human materials on the Rebel Human for Schools website at home or in other classes with their district email

The school program provides students with slides and videos demonstrating stress-relieving techniques such as the Five Dials—Breath, Focus, Movement, Self-Talk and Non-Sleep Deep Rest. One of the 103 videos included on the Rebel Human for Schools website, entitled “Diaphragmatic Breath,” features Arrington walking the viewer through a seven-minute long breathing exercise that is intended to “optimize the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your system” to reduce stress and maintain energy levels. At the end of every physical education class, physical education teachers are supposed to utilize these resources to support students and teach neuroscientific vocabulary as it relates to emotional wellness. Medina describes this integration into the physical education department as a proactive approach to mental health. 

“Let’s not wait until you’ve hit bottom. What can we do every day to make a healthier person and a healthier society, healthier community?” said Medina.

As of right now, Rebel Human is only taught in physical education classes, as administrators thought it was logical to connect physical and mental wellbeing. 

“If [a student’s] physical wellbeing is not what they’d like it to be, oftentimes, they’re not feeling great mentally, and vice versa. … Mental health is something that everybody has, and it’s always something that can be improved. So, talking about it anywhere is beneficial. For physical education, we’re lucky enough to have very knowledgeable individuals and to have the opportunity to have these conversations,” Physical Education teacher Victoria Kienzle said. 

Prior to forging the connection between ETHS and Rebel Human, Arrington and Medina attended multiple staff development meetings. Following those discussions, ETHS ultimately partnered with Rebel Human.

“We specifically felt a connection to Rebel Human for their ability to kind of differentiate and make a unique curriculum to ETHS students. Jenny Arrington, one of the founding Rebel Human owners, and her partner team were really able to kind of create an individualized, specific curriculum based off of the needs of our students and based off of what was going on in the world with the pandemic,” said Physical Education department chair Marie Livatino.

According to ETHS invoices to Rebel Human, obtained by Evanston government accountability blogger Tom Hayden, for the 2021-22 school year, ETHS paid Rebel Human $30,000 for a teacher training course, the Rebel Human Repair the Harm Program (part of the Rebel Human for Schools curriculum) and the Rebel Human video library. This $30,000 payment came out of ETHS’ $44 million budget for that year. Subsequently, two additional invoices for $17,000 were paid, one in August 2022 and the other in March 2023.  

In addition to Rebel Human’s relationship with ETHS, Arrington—a relative of Michael Arrington, an ETHS alumni who donated $330,000 to assist in the construction of the Michael B. Arrington Wellness and Performance Center, and Illinois state senator W. Russell Arrington—and Medina are also working on implementing Rebel Human for Schools into the curriculum at Nichols and Haven Middle School. The organization’s advisory board includes Dr. Paul Goren, who was the Superintendent of Schools for District 65 until 2019 and is currently the director of the Center for Education Efficacy, Excellence and Equity, and the chief strategy advisor and lecturer for the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy, and Dr. Michaell Allen, a former principal of Oakton Elementary School and current Educational Leadership Consultant for the Illinois Principals Association. Rebel Human for Schools is also going to be starting at Lawrence Hall, a social service organization central to Chicago that supports struggling youth through a variety of trauma-informed programs and resources. However, so far, ETHS is the only school included on the Rebel Human website’s “clients and features” page. 

“[We’re] taking these practices and protocols that have been researched and translating them into something that can work in a public school, because we want to normalize these practices that are effective at taking care of your internal resources. [Taking care of your self] has an impact on your mental health, your physical health [and] your ability to make connections to do what you want to do in your life,” said Medina.

Other high schools in the area, including Oak Park River Forest High School and New Trier Township High School, have implemented different strategies to improve student wellbeing, including wellness workshops and assistance from organizations such as the Jed Foundation, a non-profit teen wellbeing group. For ETHS, administrators see Rebel Human as paying positive dividends for students. Last spring, 2,340 students took an anonymous survey developed by the organization to determine the utility of the program for students. The survey was given during physical education classes in May 2023.

“I feel like the student response has been really positive. Quite a few times during the school year, we’ve asked for student feedback, and we’ve done a student survey for feedback. I do know that the responses in general have been positive. 82 percent of students reported that Rebel Human has helped them gain more control over their physiological state,” Livatino said.

In that same survey, 75 percent of students reported feeling like they gained more control over their emotional states after engaging in Rebel Human practice, and 76 percent of students felt less anxious after doing a Rebel Human activity. Another 73 percent felt more focused and ready to learn. While these were the general findings across all demographic groups, 80 and 77 percent of Black/African-American students and Latinx/Hispanic students respectively reported feeling more focused after using Rebel Human as opposed to 68 percent of white students.

Junior Jeanine Bahanuzi finds that following along with the breathing techniques help her manage her emotions, especially in terms of anxiety and stress. 

“In certain aspects of my life, I like how they talk about how to calm yourself and how to deal with certain things. An example can be when you’re stressed, they have the breathing [practices],” she said.

Freshman Mari Mulcahey, who often engages in Rebel Human for a portion of Monday’s 33-minute physical education class, feels similarly

“I feel like [Rebel Human] is pretty nice sometimes because it’s a good way to use meditation and stuff that helps you understand how you can just take care of yourself better,” she said. 

Over the last two months, the Evanstonian conducted its own short survey on student sentiment around Rebel Human. In this survey, which received 311 responses, 126 of which were juniors, students assessed their enjoyment of the program on a scale of one to five, one being strong dislike and five being strong enjoyment, 83.9 percent of respondents answered three or lower. Only 4.8 percent of survey respondents answered with a five. 

For some of the students who don’t find Rebel Human enjoyable, that dislike comes from questions about the program’s claims. Junior Zadie Ivaska has been doing Rebel Human in her physical education classes since her freshman year and, recently, attended an August presentation given by Arrington and Medina. 

“I just find myself being a little bit skeptical. I don’t think it’s necessarily like a bad thing; it’s just certain claims they make. I definitely feel kind of uncertain about some claims they make about what meditation can do for you,” she said. 

This skepticism, she explained, was rooted in the fact that she struggled to find more background information about from where Rebel Human was sourcing their information. According to the Rebel Human for Schools website, one of the six pillars of the program is that the organization is grounded in science. Rebel Human takes a “three-pronged approach” to this science, with each one of the three prongs intended to come together to lay a foundation of science-based resources that recognize students’ “full humanity.” The first prong is “seminal research on meditation and mindfulness,” followed by sociological research on behaviors and motivations, then research on the neurobiology of the adolescent brain. 

“I thought I should look at the sources just so I know what I’m talking about. I went on the [Rebel Human] website and it was kind of difficult to find in the first place, and I think that if you have students who want to know more, you should have resources readily available. And also, in the curriculum, explain…where you’re getting your information,” she said. 

However, Arrington and Medina strongly believe that neuroscience is one of the most important aspects of Rebel Human, and that it’s critical that students understand the scientific reasoning supporting what they’re learning. 

“When [Arrington] said it’s neuroscience based, it means that not only are the tools we teach grounded in research, but that we hope to give students the information about how the brain and the nervous system work, so that they understand the ‘why’ behind what they’re doing,” Medina said. 

While these pillars of neuroscience are incredibly important to Rebel Human, researchers in the field, such as Dr. Katie Insel, who received a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University and is currently in a postdoctoral program at Columbia University, note that there’s still important research being conducted to ensure that these methods are the best approach.

“Some of these technologies are newer, and there’s research ongoing, but I think we’re still getting a better sense of what’s going on, who’s benefiting and when things work. I think the ideas behind [these programs] are really good. We want to support teens as much as we can and provide interventions that are low cost and easy to access. But we just don’t know yet if this is like the best approach or the most effective,” she said. 

“It’s hard at first, so I understand why some people would be hesitant to give it a try. Anything useful and that is going to make great change is not easy at first, and there’s always these stages of skepticism. There’s skepticism, then there’s the denial and there’s pushback, but where we see for…where students will take it easily whether they’re an adult or an adolescent, is when they’re in a ton of pain. … We don’t want kids to get to that point,” said Arrington.

Outside of these ideas, junior Michael Le feels that Rebel Human is not having the intended impact due to the way it’s presented. The ideas about breath manipulation and de-stressing appealed to him, and he felt that the science was sound. However, he, along with other students, started losing interest in the program after seeing it repeatedly in his physical education and wellness classes. 

“I kind of liked the idea of [Rebel Human], but then it just got really repetitive because they kept teaching it every semester, every class for gym and then wellness too,” he said. 

Sophomore Ruby Dold echoed this statement, explaining that what Rebel Human is teaching is interesting, but the presentation strategy did not work for her. 

“I feel like it’s really repetitive. We look at the exact same slideshow and videos every time we use it. The first time it was nice, but after that we’ve just been learning the same stuff. And I feel like a lot of people don’t like it really much,” she said. 

Based on the results from the administrative survey, Livatino recognized that the program may not work for everyone, and explained that the physical education department is working towards understanding why. 

“We have 80 percent saying this—that’s a strong amount—but then what about that other 20 percent? Why are they not feeling connected?” she said. 

Insel notes that it’s not uncommon for curriculums to face varying levels of skepticism.

“Adolescents are deep thinkers and critical thinkers, so often when something is prescribed at the group level, they might see flaws in it or think that it’s being assigned to them. It’s not something that they’re choosing to tap into,” she said. 

However, students aren’t the only community members involved in the implementation of Rebel Human. Teachers must also present and teach the curriculum, specifically within the physical education department. Kienzle explained that she genuinely sees a benefit in what Rebel Human is teaching and is looking for ways to improve the curriculum for disengaged students.

“I do see value in [Rebel Human]. I know that they’re working on making everything a little bit more interactive so that maybe it’s not always slides or the same types of breathing techniques. I think they have done a good job of allowing it to evolve over the past couple of years,” she said. “I do know that there’s been a lot of positive responses, and a lot of constructive criticism as well. But I do think that anyone that has constructive criticism is not necessarily just complaining about it.”

Arrington and Medina are excited to develop the program further by including professional development in relation to Rebel Human for ETHS staff members, acquiring grants to support this type of mental health intervention and introducing a student advisory board. 

“For the student advisory board, I want more student voices. I want the videos to better reflect the diversity of the student population in regards to race, gender, etc. I want to more clearly convey the science of the program,” Medina said.

To Livatino, the student advisory committee would allow Rebel Human to tailor their curriculum directly to student needs—a necessity when it comes to mental health interventions. 

“What’s most important is really having student centered voices, student choice lessons, and building that partnership…because if you don’t understand it, then you don’t feel like whoever is teaching it to you is bringing it to you in a way that you can hear it,” she said. 

In terms of a student-teacher partnership, wellness teacher Montell Wilburn hopes that more teachers will take the time to engage with the program.

“You can’t teach something like the science of stress management and Rebel Human and not really believe in it yourself. So, students will realize if it’s authentic or not based on how the teacher teaches the curriculum, so it needs to be taught with authenticity. And I just think teachers need to be genuine about it and honest about its importance,” he said. 

Arrington and Medina believe that when students are able to take Rebel Human seriously, they’ll be able to work more efficiently, with more focus, clarity and creativity. This is why Kienzle tries to engage her students in Rebel Human practices, as she explains. 

“One of the things I always tell my students is, give it a chance. You may not see a benefit to it right now. Maybe you yourself aren’t currently using these things, but maybe down the road, you will see benefits to them. Give it a chance. Maybe, you’ll start to see that it is working,” she said. 

Ivaska finds that peer influence also has an impact on her perception of the material. 

“I found that when other people actually engage, I’m more inclined to actually engage as well. … I think it has to do with seeing other people’s perspectives, especially peers. It’s one of those things I think that if a teacher really endorses it, it’s like only adults that think it’s good,” she said. 

Arrington and Medina understand that sometimes students may be skeptical or reluctant to engage in Rebel Human, but because they see so many potential positives that could come out of it, they’re inclined to push for more involvement. 

“That’s why we’re called Rebel Human. Someone Rebel Human is someone who has the strength and clarity of purpose, to do the hard thing when it’s the right thing. Not just do a hard thing for the hard thing’s sake,” said Arrington.

Campbell, who appears as a teacher in a Rebel Human video as well as on their website, agrees that student engagement is important.

So how do we get everybody just good practices?…And so how do we get more people to engage in these practices?” he said.

The physical education department hopes that getting students to engage Rebel Human will promote positive mental health, which will lay the foundation for a more healthy life.

“I just want to say it can never be overstated enough that mental health is such a huge part of everybody’s life, for the students, for the staff, for our community,” Livatino said. “I am really grateful and proud of our physical education teachers and the Rebel Human staff who have come together to collaborate and they continue to champion this message of mental health, lifelong wellness for everyone.”

View Comments (2)
Donate to The Evanstonian
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of the Evanstonian. We are planning a big trip to the Journalism Educators Association conference in Philadelphia in November 2023, and any support will go towards making that trip a reality. Contributions will appear as a charge from SNOSite. Donations are NOT tax-deductible.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Marin Ubersox
Marin Ubersox, In-Depth Co-Editor
Hi! My name is Marin Ubersox, and I use she/her pronouns. I’m a junior, and this year I'm one of the In-Depth co-editors. I love writing about issues that affect our community, and I hope to continue raising awareness about them in In-Depth this year. I lead the ETHS Politics Club, am an active member of the Community Service Club, and also play tennis. In my free time, I love reading books and hanging out with my friends.
Paula Hlava
Paula Hlava, Staff Writer
Hi! My name is Paula Hlava and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I’m a Sophomore and this is my second year of writing for The Evanstonian. I am a staff writer for the in-depth section. The Evanstonian has helped me become a stronger writer and person. Outside of the paper, I do ETHS Theater, Movie Review Club, and Community Service Club. I love to bake, go on walks, go shopping, read and write, as well as spend time with my family and friends!
Hey! My name is Olivia Tankevicius (they/them). I’m a sophomore, and this is my second year as an artist for the paper! Being part of The Evanstonian staff has allowed me to take my hobby and use it to contribute to my school community, an opportunity I am so grateful for. Around ETHS, you’ll find me acting in theater, and dancing on the ETHS team. Outside of school I love to crochet, dance at another studio, and take really cute pictures of my cat!
Donate to The Evanstonian
Our Goal

Comments (2)

All The Evanstonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • T

    Tom HaydenNov 17, 2023 at 1:26 pm

    Ok my first comment was ?; I read this again and this is very good reporting and covers both sides. You all should be commended for this coverage. Thank you for the follow up!

  • T

    Tom HaydenNov 17, 2023 at 12:52 pm

    Is this journalism or PR?