By: Mo Merhoff, President of OneZone
My packing up for the day would slow down when I realized someone was in the hall outside my classroom door. One afternoon it was an emotional sophomore arguably over-anxious over making some team. But another time it was a 17-year-old prolonging going home, because home was where an alcoholic, abusive parent waited. In my seven years in a high school classroom, there were many after-schools spent with a student, sometimes listening, sometimes encouraging, and sometimes intervening.
Every single teacher can relate to this. Anybody who’s ever spent a day in a classroom can. I’d argue it’s a major reason why teachers continue in a profession fraught with challenges. It’s a conscious choice to make a difference - one student at a time. We’re kidding ourselves if we presume that every student is the product of a healthy, successful nuclear family, and that teachers aren’t often the only adult in a student’s life to whom they can turn for help.
That’s why the legislature’s recent elimination of mental health program funding from House Bill 1004, this session’s omnibus school safety legislation, was so disappointing. Even more disappointing was the reason given by the vocal group responsible – that teachers are taking away parental rights by committing to helping students with mental health issues. Think about that premise for a minute . . .teachers, the very people completely committed to creating success for their students, should be precluded from making a difference in the mental health of those students.
Two years ago, the City of Fishers launched Stigma-Free Fishers – a campaign involving the entire community, with the goal of working together to reject stigmatizing labels and make a difference for those affected by mental illness. HSE created a slogan for their program - Labels are for Jars, not People. Slowly but surely, that community-wide commitment is making a difference, and the city is tracking their success and reporting the results (https://stigmafreefishers.com/about/reporting).
Fishers’ efforts deserve to be replicated all over Indiana, but that won’t happen if legislators decide to eliminate key players’ ability to be part of the solution. It’s important we send a strong message to our legislators that teachers always have and always will often be the difference makers in students’ lives. Somebody needs to be there for the person waiting outside the door.
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