Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Academics Are Vital to My Son’s Growth. But I Also Need to Know His School Cares For His Mental Health.

For our children, the last 18 months have been a daunting exercise in adapting to a “new normal” and dealing with the ever-present challenges of growing up amidst vast social unrest and uncertainty.

As my son returns to the classroom, ensuring that his mental health is prioritized inside — and outside — the classroom will be key, and our schools are a critical piece to this social and emotional health puzzle.

I have made it my mission to look for schools that support my son’s academic growth while making him feel loved, valued, and empowered. The opportunity to guide my child’s educational path has allowed me to find a school that provides students with a high-quality educational program, while instituting mental health practices that offer families a safe space to access resources and information that supports every child’s emotional development. That is why this year, I am excited by the opportunity to have my son embark on his learning journey at KIPP Miami.

School is a sacred space for our children, where they build lasting habits and relationships that will define the rest of their lives. My son has been fortunate to have teachers by his side that helped nurture his confidence and fueled his academic growth. I have witnessed him flourish into an outgoing young man that feels empowered to speak publicly at our local church and lead his school’s morning announcements.

School is a sacred space for our children, where they build lasting habits and relationships that will define the rest of their lives.

In the last year, however, the pandemic cast a cloud over his outgoing spirit, an experience that students across the country can attest to. It was in these dark days of the pandemic that I understood the value of teaching healthy coping mechanisms to our children so that, when hard times came their way, they would feel prepared to confront life’s toughest challenges.

For many young Black and brown children, who have experienced great adversity and turmoil because of the social unrest they witnessed in the last year, these tools are especially important for their emotional wellbeing. 

Now, as my son begins a new chapter at KIPP Miami — which is part of the national Knowledge is Power Program network of college-preparatory, public charter schools — I am delighted to say that I have found a community that will support my goals of making sure he has the right tools to thrive academically while taking care of his mental health.

From restorative justice circles to morning affirmation sessions, KIPP is leading the way in helping students become agents of their own mental wellbeing while filling their toolkits to combat everyday stressors that could detract from their academic development. KIPP teachers understand the value of affirming and validating our children, which is key in motivating students to take what they learn in their classrooms and put it into practice out in the world.

As we get ready for a new school year, schools should take a page out of KIPP’s playbook and incorporate mental health into their educational curriculum. Integrating these strong mental health practices will undoubtedly help students take their academic development to the next level, all the while living healthy and enriched livelihoods.

Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash.

Arcena Smith
A mother of two energetic young boys, Ms. Smith, is always on the go working to impart a sense of civic duty, love for educational development and appreciation of their community in her sons. Ms. Smith is an active volunteer at her family's local church and is very involved in her children's school as a member of the PTA.

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