Park City Education Foundation focusing on student and teacher mental health
For the Park City Education Foundation, one of the many lessons to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic was the importance of educating the whole child, focusing not only on academics but also on students’ health and wellbeing.
It’s one reason the foundation has made mental health a top priority.
For the past 40 years, the Park City Education Foundation has supported educator-powered initiatives designed to inspire students to reach their academic and lifelong potential. But it wasn’t until recently that one of the organization’s main initiatives became educator and student wellness.
Park City Education Foundation Executive Director Abby McNulty explained the new initiative.
“That really emerged out of COVID, where we saw basic needs not being met for essentially teachers and students and, you know, everyone was stretched thin,” McNulty said. “ We really have to think about burnout and what it's like to be an educator in the world today, what it's like to be a student in the world today.”
The idea of educating and supporting the whole child is not new. Decades of research have highlighted the need for education strategies that recognize the connections between a child’s social, emotional and academic development and their physical and mental health.
However, McNulty said the pandemic created a clear call to action for schools, families and educators to provide comprehensive support to address the wide-ranging needs of students.
“We really wanted to make sure that our resources, that we were designating resources, to programs that we think have the highest impact on overall student achievement and that's where wellness bubbled to the surface,” McNulty said. “That we can't just think about the academic profile, we have to think about the whole person.”
The Park City Education Foundation is also focusing on the mental health of educators.
According to a study published in “Educational Researcher,” teachers experienced significantly more anxiety during the pandemic than health care, office or other workers.
The authors found that U.S. teachers were 40 percent more likely to report anxiety symptoms than health care workers, 20 percent more likely than office workers and 30 percent more likely than workers in other occupations, such as military, farming and legal professions.
In Park City, the education foundation devotes the entire month of May to championing local educators and hosts coffee camper visits to show community support and help teachers.
“This week we're deploying 'The Lucky Ones' coffee campers to all the schools to say thank you and express our gratitude to teachers," McNulty said. "It's just a really small thing that we can do to say, 'We're thinking of you. We're supporting you. Here's a cup of coffee, some breakfasts, on the Park City Education Foundation,' which really is an expression of the entire community support of our educators.”
Another element of the foundation’s educator and student wellness initiative is its event series. Coming up next month, Dr. Jason Rafferty, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist, will hold a talk titled, "Tripping through Adolescent Substance Abuse and Experimentation: What Parents Need to Know.”
He’ll discuss the underlying reasons for adolescent substance use, risks parents need to be aware of and how to talk with children about it.
“This is really important because in mountain communities, substance use is higher than in other communities across the United States and it’s something we need to think about and have a conversation about,” McNulty said.
The free event will be held Monday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., in the Blair Education Center of the Park City Hospital. Registration is not required and translators will be available.