When the pandemic grounded our 2020 grant recipients’ plans, we wrestled with ways to continue honoring their passion and professionalism. The spaces normally filled with updates from teachers actively pursuing self-designed fellowships fell silent. That is, until we handed our Fellows a microphone.
Even prior to the pandemic, experts widely acknowledged that America’s students were experiencing a mental health crisis. A 2017 CDC report showed that suicide was the second-leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds. Add incidents of self-harm into the equation and the outlook is even more bleak. The average age a student begins self-harming habits is 13 and 45% of people use cutting as their method of self-injury. And who has the most exposure to students during these years? Ostensibly, its teachers.
Earlier this year, the Brookings Institution published an article titled “Educators are key in protecting student mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Cassi Clausen, teacher and founder of The Open School in Mission Viejo, CA, realized she was not equipped for this challenge. In 2018 Cassi received a Fund for Teachers grant to Attend the annual Sudbury Schools Conference in Kingston, NY, to learn best practices for supporting at-risk students. Using one of Fund for Teachers’ new Innovation Grants, she spent the summer in dialogue with psychology Dr. Thomas D’Angelo, an expert in pre-teen and teen mental health and self-harm practices, to shift her personal understanding of self-harm and learn how to create safe spaces for struggling students.