Men­tal health tool kits help BCPS re­con­nect with stu­dents

The Dundalk Eagle - - NEWS - By KAITLIN KULICH kkulich@ches­pub.com

BAL­TI­MORE COUNTY—Sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions teamed up last week to dis­trib­ute 2,555 men­tal health kits to around 8,000 stu­dents who stoped do­ing school work and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their teach­ers since the start of the COVID-19 pan­demic.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion of Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools, United Way of Cen­tral Mary­land, and the Michael Phelps Foun­da­tion cre­ated and do­nated the kits in an ef­fort to reen­gage these stu­dents and bet­ter sup­port their fam­i­lies who cut all ties with the school sys­tem af­ter classes switched to re­mote learn­ing.

“They have kind of fallen off. They have not been do­ing any dig­i­tal learn­ing and they have not been seen,” Beth Lit­trell, di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and vol­un­teerism for United Way said while as­sem­bling the kits at Carver Cen­ter for the Arts last week.

“Houses have been vis­ited and they can’t find the stu­dents. They have com­pletely shut off con­tact.”

Lit­trell said many of the stu­dents who haven’t been heard from are from bilin­gual fam­i­lies who speak English as a sec­ond langue.

“For a lot of stu­dents, English is their sec­ond lan­guage and their par­ents may not have un­der­stood what was hap­pen­ing. So there is a big ef­fort in place to make sure those fam­i­lies un­der­stand why it’s hap­pen­ing and what is hap­pen­ing.”

When asked about how BCPS is work­ing to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with bilin­gual stu­dents and fam­i­lies, Bran­don Oland, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist for Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools said the school sys­tem has gone to great lengths to sup­port all of their fam­i­lies.

“We have pro­vided 1.5 mil­lion meals for stu­dents who need them since March. We have made free hotspots avail­able for fam­i­lies strug­gling with in­ter­net ac­cess. We have pro­vided as many fam­i­lies as pos­si­ble with the tech­nol­ogy they need,” Oland said.

“The Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion’s re­cent work to pro­vide sup­plies for fam­i­lies who need them is just the lat­est ex­am­ple. We had poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in place to check in with fam­i­lies who we had not heard from dur­ing emer­gency con­ti­nu­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in the spring. Those same ef­forts to reach out to fam­i­lies have, and will, con­tinue. This in­cludes school ad­min­is­tra­tors per­son­ally reach­ing out to fam­i­lies.”

Hav­ing been a teacher her­self, Lit­trell knows that one of the best ways to help a stu­dent in the class­room is to help those stu­dent’s fam­i­lies who might be go­ing through tough times.

“We have found that the fam­i­lies who are not en­gin­ing with the school, there are un­der­ly­ing is­sues to that. Whether it’s un­em­ploy­ment, or they moved, or there is emo­tional dis­tress re­lated to COVID. These tool kits are aimed at help­ing the fam­ily get health­ier and get their chil­dren reen­gaged in the school,” Lit­trell said.

The tool kits con­sist of Michael Phelps Foun­da­tion’s IM Healthy emo­tional health les­sons, United Way’s 2-1-1 call line for peo­ple to re­ceive help with any life changes they are un­der­go­ing, as well as re­sources to use in Bal­ti­more County to help reen­gage their chil­dren in school. Stress balls, figit spin­ners, jump ropes and mind­ful­ness jour­nals are also in­cluded to help stu­dents boost their men­tal health.

Lit­trell said United Way has seen an in­crease in peo­ple call­ing in to their of­fice with men­tal health re­lated is­sues since the start of the pan­demic. So, when Deb­bie Phelps, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion of Bal­ti­more County, con­tacted Lit­trell and said BCPS stu­dents and fam­i­lies were hav­ing men­tal health is­sues as well, Lit­trell was ea­ger to part­ner with the foun­da­tion to cre­ate the men­tal health kits.

“We thought we have to do more. We got these kits to­gether re­ally quickly be­cause the kits will be distribute­d by the school’s prin­ci­pals at a re-en­gage­ment program [ this week],” Lit­trell said.

Lit­trell said United Way will con­tinue to help BCPS stu­dents by hold­ing a book and school sup­ply drive for the Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion of Bal­ti­more County. More stu­dents will also re­ceive these men­tal health tool kits to help them while they do on­line learn­ing un­til Jan­uar y.

“We are go­ing to start with these 2,500 for the kids that need them the most. The ul­ti­mate goal is to get one to ev­ery stu­dent,” Lit­trell said.

“Once we started talk­ing about the men­tal health is­sues, a lot of dif­fer­ent part­ners stepped up and said they wanted to be a part of this. We are of­fer­ing this as an ad­di­tional fund­ing op­por­tu­nity for cor­po­ra­tions. If they want to fund this with a grant, then we can get these out to more stu­dents,” Lit­trell said.

Phelps said in ad­di­tion to the metal health kits, the Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion will con­tinue to sup­port stu­dents, their fam­i­lies and ed­u­ca­tors through their RISE (Re­lief In Se­cur­ing Ed­u­ca­tion) for a Brighter Fu­ture program, tan through the two teacher re­source cen­ters, one at The Av­enue at White Marsh and one in Wind­sor Mill, where teach­ers can re­ceive free sup­plies for their stu­dents and class­rooms.

“We sup­port our teach­ers and stu­dents with re­sources that are not sup­plied by taxes and the re­sources in­side the kits align with the con­tent from Michael’s (her son’s), foun­da­tion. The kits are in ref­er­ence to our so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing com­po­nent in the school dis­trict,” Phelps said.

“Our chil­dren have needs. Peo­ple feel some­times that in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion there are not needs due to tax dol­lars but [ the chil­dren’s needs] go be­yond that.”

Peo­ple who wish to vol­un­teer their time to help BCPS with their school sup­ply drive or vol­un­teer at ei­ther of the Ex­chan­g­eree lo­ca­tions, visit www.ed­u­ca­tion­foun­da­tion­bcps.org/tools-for-schools-on-linereg­is­tra­tion.

PHOTO BY TEAM BCPS

Vol­un­teers as­sem­bling men­tal health kits

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