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Marcus Avenue Celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Lisa Kaplan, Marcus Avenue Preschool’s Social Worker, planned several activities to engage students, teachers, and staff. Her goal this month was to integrate daily activities that would support teachers and equip them with coping mechanisms to better relate to and address students’ mental and emotional needs.

Marcus Avenue staff dressed in Green for Mental Health Awareness MonthTo do this, Lisa organized a spirit week promoting mental health/wellness activities throughout the month, including Meditation Mondays, Game Day Tuesdays, Dance Party Thursdays, and Positive Vibes Fridays.

On Mondays, teachers and staff had the option to participate in a 10-minute meditation session in the sensory room.

The sensory room is a haven for emotional rebalancing. With its mesmerizing bubble tubes, dim lighting, and squishy gel mats, it welcomes anyone who visits to settle on a bean bag and take a calming breath.

It’s there that a small group gathered every Monday to release the day’s stress. On Game Day Tuesdays, everyone had the option to join in a game of Hedbanz in the gym. A favorite for students and staff was Positive Vibes Fridays, where everyone was encouraged to wear a t-shirt with a positive message.

Lisa’s activities are part of a greater stress reduction and mental wellness initiative she’s spearheading in the school. On May 15, she led a virtual mental health awareness and wellness presentation for all staff.

“In the teacher’s mental health section, I focused on social emotional learning in the classroom and explained that kids show their emotions in some ways like adults, but also in different ways,” said Lisa.

For teachers, she also mentioned the importance of positive self-talk explaining that teachers are often critical of themselves and need to prioritize speaking kindly to themselves. To help them through this, she created a positive affirmation board for teachers to write three positive characteristics on a cut-out shaped like the sun to place on the board.

In her counseling sessions with students, Lisa incorporates mindfulness lessons and strategies to help them think about their actions. Also, she emphasizes students consider how they react to certain emotions and how their behavior, when in an emotional state, can impact others. One tool that she shares with students, teachers and parents is the use of social stories.

Social stories are short scenarios designed to help students with developmental delays navigate social situations by providing examples of social norms and appropriate behaviors.

“Social stories have pictures, visual cues, and videos that resonate well with students,” said Lisa. “The visuals help the concepts sink in better for them.”

She creates stories to reinforce all kinds of concepts like social interactions, dealing with anxiety and even toilet training.

Overall, the feedback she’s received from her mental health initiatives has been positive with teachers sharing that they look forward to the self-care activities and that they help them leave work in a more positive mood.

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