New program centers on teachers' mental health

Posted at 1:33 PM, Dec 10, 2020

ROCKVILLE, Md. — It’s been a long, empty year at many schools across the country and for those who work there.

“It has been one of the most watershed year in my 30-some years of education that I've ever seen,” said Karin Tulchinsky Cohen, an assistant principal at Beall Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Montgomery County is home to the largest school district in the state. The more than 11,000 teachers in the district, like many all over the world, face tough challenges brought on by virtual learning.

“Their stress levels have been very, very high,” she said.

Recognizing that, the school district partnered with Kaiser Permanente for “RISE,” which stands for “Resilience In School Environments,” part of their Thriving Schools program to offer more programs and resources to help teachers improve their own mental health and coping abilities.

“The effort of just having to overdo it on the screen so that your students can stay engaged, one, and continue to learn. I mean, they've just had to grow their repertoire so much,” said Erin VanLuven, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser Permanente.

Some of what they do also involves yoga and virtual dance parties.

“People that can regulate their own emotions when crisis comes into their life, you know, they are much more able to be effective and efficient and they're much more likely to bounce back,” VanLuven said.

Among VanLuven's three main suggestions to strengthen mental health are the following:

  1. Make sure to give yourself a “bio-break,” which includes deep breathing or even stretching for a few minutes
  2. Try to eat at least two healthy meals a day that include fruits and vegetables, because that impacts your overall health, including mental health
  3. Take up a hobby you enjoy and do it

“Everybody should be taking care of their emotional wellness, and it doesn't really take much more than 10 to 30 minutes a day,” VanLuven said.

For educators, the advice and camaraderie with fellow teachers have helped. Kaiser Permanente is working with school districts in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas, with plans to expand those programs elsewhere.

“I am so proud of the teachers in my school and all teachers,” said Tulchinsky Cohen. “They have adapted so beautifully.”

It’s a way of adapting to a new way of doing things, for now.