The pandemic’s traumas and isolation spurred a mental health crisis among children — and an unprecedented reckoning about the role schools can and should play in tending to the mental health needs of students and staff members.

The Illinois legislature recently backed proposals allowing students and educators to take time off for mental health reasons. With federal COVID relief dollars, some schools across the state are trying to bring more help for students in-house – from one-on-one therapy to wellness screenings to new social and emotional learning curricula. But such efforts can be uneven from school to school and district to district, and work remains to better track which approaches are paying off for students.

Chalkbeat spoke with five finalists for the 2022 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching about what they and their campuses are doing to address the pandemic’s mental health fallout for both students and educators — and how public schools could shift their approach to better serve struggling, vulnerable students.

Their answers have been lightly edited and condensed for publication.

Sharon Ponder-Ballard
Englewood STEM High School, Chicago
On supporting student mental health: At Englewood STEM, we have two full-time social workers, three full-time counselors, and a clinic with a social worker and psychologist. We use the Umoja Seminar and Embarc curriculums to reach every student in the building with social and emotional learning. During the advisory period, teachers engage students in mindfulness and meditation. We also offer group counseling, one-on-one crisis meetings, and other mental health interventions through our school’s behavioral health team.

On supporting teacher mental health: To provide the best care for our students, we also must take care of ourselves as educators. Our job requires so much of our mental and emotional alertness that we need to replenish without taking it home all the time. During prep period, I try to go out jogging at least twice a week on our beautiful track. Often, there are other colleagues there getting those steps in and enjoying the fresh air.

Read the full article about student mental health by Mila Koumpilova at Chalkbeat.