School Visits and Mental Health

Recently I was invited, along with the Belouga team to visit a school in NJ, West-Windsor Plainsboro school district to be exact. Here's what happened…

 

I love visiting schools because I'm reminded of all the great things about being a teacher. Walking from classroom to classroom, listening to the sounds of kids bounding through the hallways, teachers excited to share their personal learning journeys. I think back to the anticipation I felt at the beginning of each day, full of possibility and never knowing how the day was going to unfold.

This week was no exception. It consisted of a dog, some mental health, highly engaged teachers and students and even a snake!

Rebecca was the ringmaster of my middle school visit, shuffling us from place to place and inviting students to join us at the snack table to chat. These conversations went beyond the typical "tell me what you're learning" chatter. In the span of just a couple days, I had conversations with students spanning everything from how the SDGs are all connected to finding solutions to waste to how a group of students is combatting the stigma associated with mental illness through community workshops and engaging their peers in making healthy choices. We discussed how the growth of algae and air quality could be connected and how it could be affecting local freshwater sources. Hour after hour, I was reminded of the power of handing the reigns over to kids.

The Belouga team with the girls from NuYu mental health group.

The Belouga team with the girls from NuYu mental health group.

Students can solve problems, and they are eager for adults to listen to them and push their thinking. They just need an opportunity and access to resources. Because they aren't entrenched in societal systems and bureaucratic barriers, they see a way forward where adults wouldn't. A perfect example is NuYu, a student-created organization that works to educate themselves and members of the community about the importance of mental health and wellness.

Rebecca has created something extraordinary in her room, a safe space for everyone who enters. It's a revolving door of special guests and therapy dogs as students spend their lunch periods to learn about how to manage stress and pack their mental health backpack. I watched in awe of the ebb and flow of people throughout the day and Rebecca guiding along the way.

Take a look at the tarantula on Rebecca’s shoulder! Also pictured from left to right Matt Murrie, Evin Schwartz and me.

Take a look at the tarantula on Rebecca’s shoulder! Also pictured from left to right Matt Murrie, Evin Schwartz and me.

Then there was Sven, and this is an experience I will not soon forget. You see, Sven has a classroom full of glass tanks which are home to various reptiles and other fear-inducing specimens. I have a very irrational and real fear of snakes. Just the mere thought of being in the same room as one caused my heart rate to rise, so when he asked me if I wanted to touch the thing it took everything I had not to turn around and run. But while I was white as a ghost with a racing heart while Linda the python was out of his tank, I couldn't help but be sucked into the learning. Sven the snake man seamlessly covered topics like density and how different types of evidence can lead you to different conclusions without missing a beat. We even made on the fly connections between birds and other wildlife in Beijing and what would be observed in NJ.

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Every teacher I spoke to was innovating in some way whether it was pushing students to think past a single story of race, gender or culture or providing opportunities for students to challenge textbooks through the use of first-person accounts of slavery.

There were amazing teachers around every corner and being able to share this work is why I get so excited about this blog because it provides a place where teachers can shine. It gives me great hope to see that despite what the news is projecting about education in the US, the show must go on. The show does go on, and with teachers like Rebecca in the lead, our future is in good hands.

 

Rebecca created some fantastic content for students focused on the teen brain and mental health. Take a look! https://blou.ga/Nr3xz