Erika’s Lighthouse at SHAPE Florida
I heard an amazing presentation on Erika’s Lighthouse curriculum at a conference hosted by SHAPE Florida, the state organization for physical and health education K-12 teachers in Florida. Rachel Winsten, a high school P.E. teacher presented with passion and spoke about the opportunity through Erika’s Lighthouse. Erika’s Lighthouse offers resources to help teachers talk with their students about the importance of mental health and destigmatizing conversations around mental health. She also spoke with conviction about the levels of anxiety, stress, and depression that she has seen in students she teaches and how they have increased significantly in recent years as students grappled with the impact of COVID.
Her presentation gave me a lot to reflect on. In my role as CEO of SHAPE America, I have the tremendous privilege of getting to know many K-12 teachers across the country. I have met teachers who teach in some of the largest school districts in America, and teachers who teach at ranch schools comprised of 20 students total, covering all grades. I continue to be awed and humbled by these teachers who consistently put their students first, going above and beyond to make sure that they are safe and healthy– that they have every opportunity to learn and grow. Many of the teachers I have met work tirelessly to meet the needs of their students. Some even to the point where they are feeling tremendous burnout. It is therefore no surprise to learn the staggering statistics out there about teacher shortages in many districts.
“We cannot ignore what’s happening.”
My experiences and conversations with these teachers – and presentations like the one Rachel delivered in Florida this fall – always lead me back to one firm conclusion. We cannot ignore what’s happening. We must commit to finding ways to help our educators learn how to talk and teach about the importance of mental health. As I write these words, I realize that for many, this may feel like asking teachers to tackle one more thing when they already have incredibly full plates. It may also feel, to some, inappropriate. The idea of talking and teaching about mental health has in the past been made to feel taboo. It is made to seem as if talking about it will cause mental health issues. Or as if it’s a subject that should only be broached by true “mental health experts,” such as psychologists or psychiatrists. This brings me full circle to my earlier point – we can’t afford NOT to equip our teachers with quality professional development training, resources, and curriculum so they have the competence and confidence to talk and teach about mental health.
Resources That Make a Difference
To ignore the problem is to assume the rising levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and mental health issues will abate on their own. And that teachers striving to connect with and serve these students will somehow find their own magic wand to help both their students and manage their own feelings of stress and burnout. Instead, we MUST continue to find ways to bring resources like Erika’s Lighthouse to more schools and to more teachers. SHAPE America’s flagship SEL fundraising program, “Health. Moves. Minds.” is another opportunity to help kids connect their mental health with their physical health. I am so proud to also represent SHAPE America in a 4-year grant project called the System of Wellness Instruction for Teachers and Teens (SWIFTT), which is underway now in Milwaukee, WI. SWIFTT is focused on providing DEI-based professional development to equip teachers to help identify support for themselves and their students in coping with mental health concerns and teacher burnout.
Resources like those available from Erika’s Lighthouse are out there. The work is on us to make sure we are doing everything possible to get them into our schools for the sake of our students and for the sake of our teachers.
Erika’s Lighthouse is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 that is dedicated to educating teens and raising awareness surrounding depression and mental health. Our programs are tailored to our mission of making sure no young person feels alone in their depression. Erika’s Lighthouse strives to help teens create an inclusive school culture and eliminate the stigma of mental health. Erika’s Lighthouse evidence-informed programs not only bring awareness to young people about depression and mental health; they build a structure for young people to thrive and survive, even when they might be experiencing depression.