MARTIN: At BRICK in Newark, Supporting Staff and Parents Leads to Happier, Healthier Students

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Tashia Martin is Managing Director of Program Integration at BRICK Education Network, an education organization serving the greater Newark, New Jersey area with the mission of building resilient, intelligent, creative kids by equipping them with a high-quality, nurturing education and thriving, engaged families to support their success from cradle to career.

Today’s educators are facing unprecedented challenges, due in large part to the events that have transpired over the last two years. In addition to navigating the ever-present threat of COVID-19,  educators are learning that in order to teach their students, they must also address matters of mental health on a daily basis.

According to research conducted by the CDC, over 200,000 children experienced the death of at least one parent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Grappling with those losses, while also dealing with racism and various social issues has contributed negatively to children’s mental health. The number of children diagnosed with anxiety rose by 27% from 2016-2019, and with the additional stressors of the pandemic, those numbers continue to rise.

The effects are even more jarring for students with disabilities, including those with developmental and physical challenges. Nearly a third of parents of differently abled children say that their child has experienced issues with anxiety. Rates of depression continue to climb as well, leaving children, their families, and schools to find solutions that they may not be equipped to provide.

Teachers need the support of school leaders to ensure that they can provide children with the necessary tools to navigate the challenges they face. Without the appropriate resources,  we can not expect teachers to provide the support and resources necessary for their students to thrive.  School leaders should make socio-emotional support for teachers a priority to ensure the overall success of their students, but especially for the Black and Brown children who are historically under-supported.

At BRICK Education Network, we are committed to the overall wellness of our community. We know that when we address the mental health of parents, we can impact the well-being of children. BRICK Road to Success, our dual-generational approach to providing support, ensures that cycles of trauma aren’t replicated. Specifically, in the South Ward Promise Neighborhood, we employ domain specialists who work with families to ensure that they have the appropriate resources to become stable. If a family is in crisis, we work alongside them to find the housing, food, or emotional support resources that they need to not only survive but thrive.

At Achieve Community Charter school, we’ve adopted a restorative approach to discipline, and have seen the positive impact it has had on our school community. We provide our students with a culture survey three times per year, which allows us to track needs in real-time. In our most recent survey, we found that over 80% of our students believe that someone in the building genuinely cares about them – a metric that we believe signals our commitment to centering our students’ voices and overall wellbeing.

While it is not a simple fix, intentional leaders can make an impact in the lives of their schools and communities by taking simple steps to support their staff.  Practically, this looks like strengthening both their professional practice and their emotional wellness by providing teachers with intentional professional development sessions that center on tangible resources for socio-emotional support.

Leaders should also create a culture of listening and intentional feedback both within their staff and in the community at large in an effort to ensure that needs are being heard, understood, and met. This work can provide reassurance to students, teachers, and families who may feel like their voices are going unheard.

People can change when they have the resources to do so. To support healthier outcomes for the communities that they serve, school leaders should work to provide the right people with the tools they need to effect change.

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