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This post is part of our Teacher PD Launchpad > Cultivate Empathy

How a School’s Mental Health Provider Supports Families During the Pandemic

Loss, trauma, discomfort, uncertainty are words that have integrated all too well into our daily vocabulary. Here in Nashville, we’ve certainly been through a lot. The March 2020 tornados, the current pandemic, the Christmas bombing, and now witnessing last week’s violent insurrection have all haunted our community in less than a year. As with most traumas, these events have disproportionately impacted our families – most of whom were already struggling before the pandemic.

There’s an old quote by a personal favorite of mine, Mr. Rogers. He encouraged children, and adults, to “look for helpers” during times of crisis. The events of the past year have all but consumed our lives, altered our routines, and left our families with the burden to make it all work. The constant silver lining of working in education or being a part of a school community is that there will always be an abundance of “helpers.”

In Nashville (and most other regions), each Rocketship school is equipped with a Mental Health Provider. This professional partners with students and families to support them through whatever they may need both in time of in-person and virtual learning.

Here at Rocketship Nashville Northeast, our mental health provider, Dr. Roshanda Newsum, is an integral part of our “helper” team.

Recognizing the need for additional mental health supports, Dr. Newsum created the Mending Our Hearts program to help families cope with our current reality and to bridge the gap between home and school. While we prioritize social-emotional learning and integrate numerous coping strategies at school, her goal is to help this live beyond the classroom.

Mending our Hearts was developed with the idea that we must first take a look at our “self.” We need to understand where we are and what we need. We must also “see everyone like family.” For Dr. Newsum, this means, “seeing your family has needs and you do everything you can to help your family.” With determination in mind, she developed the first five meetings for program participants.

The first meeting served as a meet and greet. Participants examined the “man in the mirror” and started the process of looking at themselves. The group goal was to build a safe space where everyone can be vulnerable and one can truly mend their heart. The following meetings will serve as opportunities to explore heavy, but crucial topics.

Meeting number two will unpack how social-emotional learning can be transferred into the home. In addition to social-emotional learning, the group will explore common behavior management strategies that can be replicated at both school and home.

Finances are a major stressor and often merely exacerbate any situation. The second session will be an opportunity to dive into what it means to have financial freedom. They will look at budgeting, managing finances, and life insurance.

Next is understanding the many paths education can lead to. The group will analyze the college vs. career decision. Discuss what it means to dress for success and how education can support your dreams.

The fifth session will cover creating a healthy mind and a healthy body. They will explore mindfulness, quick healthy exercises, and cooking meals to promote healthy habits. This will serve as an opportunity to put their learning altogether.

Dr. Newsum shared that each session explores how we can help parents and children cope and grow. If you are looking to start a program at your school her best advice is to start by learning the culture and environment of the school while building relationships with the community. Then, learn the needs of all stakeholders so you know where to start. Finally, create a vision for the meetings you will hold, be flexible, but make it a priority.

Social-emotional learning is one of those buzzwords that have lingered in education for as long as I can remember. The addition of a mental health provider has truly helped this buzzword become a reality across the network.

My classroom has benefited from the work of Dr. Newsum. While I have unapologetically dedicated time to help my students grapple with the realities of what is happening in the world (and the events that have led up to our current struggles since our country’s inception), Dr. Newsum has provided us with personalized social-emotional lessons and support to help our students become comfortable with having these conversations. She is incredibly quick to act when any type of situation arises and she is thorough and she handles all situations with love.

One of the toughest realities to grasp is that our time with our students is fixed. This is why we know that the relationships we build with our students and their families are so important. A child’s family will always be their strongest advocate and we must support families in their development outside of school, as well.

And this is why I am beyond thankful to get to partner with a mental health provider who makes no excuse when it comes to ensuring our families have what they need, and our teachers are supported. We know the trauma of current events and life, in general, will have lasting effects, but we can start to mitigate this process when we work through things together. And maybe with a little time and a lot of together we truly can mend our hearts.

Published on January 20, 2021

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