This guest post was written by Joey Mathis, a First Book Marketing and Communication intern. She is currently an undergrad student at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.
In 2021, the U.S. surgeon general declared a youth mental health crisis. The rates of decline in the youths’ mental wellness have been growing for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. In collaboration with On Our Sleeves, we conducted a survey of 967 educators in our Network. The results of this survey were significant. It found that 85% of respondents believe that supporting student mental health in their class/program is a high or emergency priority but only 20% of educators feel adequately prepared to support students’ mental health.
At First Book, we understand that educators play an important role in supporting students’ mental health. Children spend dozens of hours in the classroom and their behavior can be influenced by outside, uncontrollable stressors in their lives. Educators can create safe, welcoming environments that positively influence their mental well-being. From the responses to our survey and our other conversations with educators and mental health professionals, we have developed free resources to help foster healing and wellness in the classroom, student programs, or at home. The resources we provide are not a replacement for professional mental health services, they are starting guides to creating a safe space. They include guidance on when to seek a referral to a mental health professional for a more involved response.
This resource developed by the First Book Accelerator team in coordination with On Our Sleeves is one of our resources that focuses on mental health. It is full of proactive and responsive tips for interacting with students to foster healing and mental wellness in the classroom. The second part of this resource is educator-centered and provides tips and suggestions to help educators take care of their own mental wellness.
According to a Pediatrics study published in 2021, almost 150,000 children lost a parent or caregiver to Covid-19 during a certain time period. This resource includes a discussion guide and a list of suggested books for various grade levels that are available on Marketplace so educators can help their students process their grief. This guide is also available to be downloaded in Spanish.
Today, children face many challenges to the positive development of their mental wellness. Many stressors that children are facing are beyond their control, and this resource provides tools for healing their trauma. The toolkit can help students process their negative experiences in a healthy way by teaching educators what trauma is, and how it might influence classroom behavior. It also encourages utilizing the help of parents and guardians, as well as the school community.
Understanding respect and empathy is an important aspect of fostering an environment for the positive development of mental wellness. All of the content comes from educators in urban cities, rural communities, suburban towns, and Native American reservations. This resource includes whole group activities, book recommendations from members of our Network, and additional resources beyond books.
Accessibility is one of our top concerns at First Book. With our many free resources, we are looking to help as many people as possible. This means that the resources can be used to help students, but also to help educators. While we develop all of our toolkits and guides for our Network members to use in low-income schools and programs, they are available for anyone to download and use.
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Educators can join First Book’s network — the largest and fastest growing network of educators, schools, and programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada — to bring these titles and many more to your classroom.