Helping Idaho students succeed in the coming years is a complex topic. One which I contemplate as both a teacher and parent. Perhaps the biggest fear I have felt as a parent is not knowing how to help my child when they were struggling. I’m not trying to understand how to conjugate verbs or calculate integrals because I would consider those “normal” school challenges with predictable solutions. I’m speaking about when your high-achieving child can’t get out of the car for school because their anxiety is paralyzing them.

Idaho public education has an opportunity to provide mental health guidance for its 310,000 students. Health teachers are educating students on the signs of anxiety & depression. We have amazing counselors who are meeting with students to give them strategies for coping. But our counselors and school psychologists are too few in number and increasingly overwhelmed by the rapid growth in caseloads.

Where the next step needs to be is in the connections with parents & communities. I know I saw the warning signs of my child’s anxiety long before it manifested in their refusal to leave the car. I had access to resources and knowledge that most parents would not. I knew what my child was going through and I also knew they needed more help than I could provide. How often are those signs missed or misinterpreted by parents?

I believe that in building the schools our students deserve we first need to educate our parents & communities on mental health. It makes sense for our public schools to be at the center of this discussion. What other venue has access to large populations of children who are potentially struggling with a mental health problem? Giving parents and educators the tools to recognize warning signs and then providing them with resources to help is essential for giving students a foundation for success, both in and out of the classroom.

Stacie Lawler
Health and PE Teacher | Rathdrum
2020 Idaho Teacher of the Year