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Times of the Islands Magazine

Student Voices

The Rotary Club of Sanibel-Captiva is driven by its mission to connect with the local community, provide opportunities for enrichment, and promote ideals of integrity and ethics through service. In keeping with that, the club partnered with The Sanibel School last fall to host an essay contest challenging eighth-grade students to write about meaningful solutions to problems that are important to them. 

At the heart of the contest is Rotary’s 4-Way Test: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” According to Chet Sadler, club secretary and chairman of the District 4-Way Test Essay Committee, the test is “the foundation of what Rotary is.” It is recited at every meeting and, for members such as Sadler, it reflects Rotary’s strong values and mission.


In the essays, students used the 4-Way Test as a framework to tackle problems they or community members face. The top three essays, which are printed here, were chosen based on criteria evaluating each student’s understanding and presentation of the test; description of the problem; and proposals for effective solutions. In February, the club hosted the winners, awarding $100 to the first- place winner, $50 for second place and $25 for third.

A common theme in the three essays is mental health and safety. First-place winner Lydia Whalen’s essay is about pervasive mental health problems among youth. She recommends creating resources, such as a website or peer counseling programs, to offer support and care for young members of the community. Maya Brennan, second-place winner, writes about mental health in the context of school shootings. Third-place winner Mara Lodwick focuses on how to mitigate the impact of peer pressure.

Sanibel School language arts teacher Jon Martin helped facilitate the contest. He posits that the eighth-grade curriculum, which focuses on current events, media and non-fiction reading, educated students about local and national problems, and aided them in picking a topic.

He presumes mental health problems are an “underlying current that they see in society right now.”

The contest grants students an opportunity for academic enrichment, and offers Rotarians and community members insight into how students perceive the world. Sadler notes, “When you read the essays, it gives you a look into what [the students’] interests are and what is important to them.” He calls the essays, and students’ maturity incorporating the values of the 4-Way Test into their analysis of real-world issues, “truly unbelievable.”

Using the 4-Way Test to Eliminate Mental Illness in Youth


The 4-Way Test is an immense way to solve global problems and put a check on your behaviors. This method of problem solving has 4 different parts. The first question of the process is “Is it the truth?” Next is, “Is it fair to all concerned?” Third is, “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” Last is, “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” The problem I am going to have the 4-Way Test check is the mental health of students in our community. A solution to this problem could be to create a website where you can go to submit a name of someone that is exhibiting signs of a serious mental illness so they can get help. We can also start a peer counseling program here on Sanibel after school where kids can come and meet friends, learn how they can handle mental issues and have a place where they feel cared for.

The first step of evaluating this solution is to figure out if it is the truth and if it is a serious issue that needs to be solved immediately. Mental health issues for students is a gigantic problem in our society. A study done by the National Alliance on Mental Health states that “50 percent of children ages 8-15 experience a mental health condition.” Another study says that “½ of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.” By reducing the number of mentally ill people it will reduce the crime rate because a lot of times people are not sane when they commit crimes. By having a way for these students to get help and having peer counseling we can prevent lifetime issues.

The Whalen family: Pete, Beth Anne, Lydia, Camille and Wyatt

The third question is will it build goodwill and better friendships. With peer counseling it is giving the unstable students a chance to build their social skills and will allow them to have a friendship with someone. Having adults and students that can come help them will make them feel important and loved by others. This is beneficial to kids on Sanibel too because it is allowing them to reach outside of their friend group and be friends with someone that they would not usually talk to or even know.The next question is if it is fair to all people who are concerned. Having this program is definitely fair to students with mental issues because they can get the help that they need and with peer counseling they have the opportunity to meet new friends. But this program will also be fair to the other students because they have some reassurance that their school will be safer if everyone is mentally stable. It will also allow students on Sanibel to reach outside of their comfort zone by helping these kids they might never have known.

The last question of the test is will it be beneficial to all concerned. This is very beneficial to the students that have mental issues because they can get the help they need and build lasting relationships. It also will help them later in life because they know how to handle their issues so they won’t be unstable and unable to find work. It is beneficial to other students that can learn to understand and help people that are going through a hard time who need people to care about them.

Overall, having a program on Sanibel to get students with mental illnesses in touch with people that can help them overcome their issues, by connecting them with adults and fellow students, can help them become better and healthier overall people.

School Shootings


One of the most prominent problems facing our schools, clubs, teams, and classmates is school shootings. School shootings affect students, teachers, parents, and many kids. They can result in PTSD, survivor’s guilt, anxiety, chronic psychiatric disorders, according to Reid Moley and NPR. It can have profound effects on schoolwork and social relationships. Mental health is a big issue that is involved in school shootings, as well as fights, bullying, depression, abuse at home, and paranoia.

A solution to school shootings could be to start an app that can give you mental advice or an elective at school to learn about mental issues and meet new students. Then I would have some different programs to create a loving, positive, and safe environment. Gun control or arming the staff may help with temporary problems but you need to focus on the student’s health. The 4-Way Test is, Is it the truth, Is it fair to all concerned, will it build goodwill and better friendships, and will it be beneficial to all concerned. All of these can help to create a convenient and useful solution to the issue of school shootings and school shooters.

The Brennan family: Kimberly Birke, Matthew, Lily and Maya

The final way to support my resolution is will it be beneficial to all concerned. In my way to fix it, it will be helpful to all concerned because every kid that needs help will get it. Van Dreal studies say, “A lot of these people have felt excluded, socially left out or rejected.” The kids that normally shoot up schools or think of shooting them up have many mental issues as well as the fact that nobody took the time or effort to try to help them. Those people must feel helpless and like no one cares about them and that needs to change. With my strategy, people will feel important, make new friends, and overall get help.The first part of using this solution is finding out if it is truthful and important to society or kids. This is important since, without mental help for students, many kids could be going through depression, anxiety, and abuse at home. Then they may decide to take out their stress and anger out on students at school or teachers. The solution is truthful because it can provide help and new friends to students who are going through a tough time or thinking of shooting up a school. The second part of using this solution is, Is it fair to all concerned, and in my solution, it is fair to all concerned. It’s fair because everyone in the situation is positively affected. The kids get help for their mental issues, the students stay safe in school, and the school staff understand the issues happening with the teens. The solution of having an elective or having an app that can provide guidance is easy to execute and very helpful, the elective is helpful in school and the app can correct matters out of school. One other way that supports my resolution is it builds goodwill and friendships within the teachers, students, and parents. The defendant in the Parkland, Florida, shooting last year said that he lost his mom to the flu and his adopted father died when he was very little. So this shows that if he had better friendships with students around him then he wouldn’t have any motivation to kill people, as well as the fact that he would be happier with more friends to talk or hang out with.

Using the 4-Way Strategy to Eliminate Peer Pressure


In life, people face many obstacles in their path to success. Peer pressure is an immense complication for teens in our age group today. Not only are teens compelled to do something if their friends are doing it, but these behaviors often lead to harsh circumstances that may trouble them for the rest of their lives.

Colossal numbers of teens today strive to impress their friends and fit in. To do this, teens turn to the most “popular,” or “trendy” choices. Vaping, diet adjustments, and sexual identity transformations are three of the most common decisions.

Adolescents today are pressured by their peers, verbally and mentally, to do these things. Even if teens are not told to do something, they may be driven to be just like their peers, to not be the odd one out and fit in. This can be very dangerous in certain situations. Teens make choices daily that could affect their futures, and being in the wrong mindset undeniably sways their decisions.

One choice a teen can be wavered to make is saying “yes” to drugs. Illicit drug use is an extensive dilemma with youth today. Many teens have the common misconception that using drugs is verified through practice of their classmates. They believe that if everyone is using drugs, it must be accepted for them to use drugs too. This is the bitter but accurate truth about our society today. Another decision teens might make is adjusting their diet to fit in with their classmates. Being the ideal weight, height, and size compared to their peers is a considerable burden to put between teens and their social status. They believe having certain qualities will make them “cooler” or more “beloved” by other students. Even though this is entirely contrary to what most students think, many teens will entirely change their appearance to fit in. A last selection teens will be pressured to make is to transform their sexual identity. As a result of the growing number of students in the LGBTQ+ community, some students feel the need to change their own sexual character. Many students think this is a minor decision, but choosing this will greatly affect their lives in the future.

The Lodwick family: Mara, Stephen, Siena and Melissa

While there is not one solution to the problem, we can take steps to ensure no one is pressured into something that will have tremendous constraints on their mental or physical health. Before speaking or acting, determine whether what you are about to say is beneficial to the entirety concerned with the statement or action. Also, confirm that what you are about to say or do is fair on the people and ideas involved. By using these strongly thought out questions, you can help compose an enhanced statement or action to benefit everyone participating in the conversation. Using these techniques to help advance our lifestyles will make peer pressure much less of a problem, and will help students make decisions for themselves, not for others.

By Francesca Block a resident of Sanibel Island and a current student at Princeton University, studying journalism, public affairs, international relations and Chinese.