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Hello Idaho: Resources for Idaho teachers trying to cope with the stress of teaching in a pandemic

Most Idaho school districts have helpful resources that address mental healthcare for teachers. Here's what teachers should know about what's available to them.

BOISE, Idaho — Many of Idaho's teachers say they're just not okay right now, as teaching during a pandemic is proving to be really challenging. 

On Facebook, KTVB's Maggie O'Mara asked teachers how they are really doing, and she hundreds of responses and private messages from teachers in the Treasure Valley. Many commenters shared their feelings about teaching in a pandemic. 

Many said they were happy to be back in the classroom, but most said they were struggling in some way.  

One of those messages of struggle was from Treasure Valley teacher Erin Paradis. She says teaching while cases of COVID-10 continue to rise in our community is stressful. 

"We aren't okay right now," Paradis said. "We're trying to keep our students safe, and we're trying to meet their emotional needs, and it's just building up." 

Paradis teaches music at Desert Springs Elementary in the Vallivue School District. 

"So, I get kindergarten through fifth grade every single day. Mondays are remote. Now that we've been back, a lot of teachers are just thrilled to see our students every day at the elementary level. But, it's still one of those nerve-wracking things when we see what's going on in the community," Paradis told KTVB.

Paradis is also active in the teacher's union, and advocates for teachers, as she's the Idaho Education Association vice president, and serves as the Vallivue Education Association co-president.  

"I'm fortunate enough that I get to go to multiple buildings in my district, just to talk with colleagues and check in with them. I've had multiple times that I've seen a colleague who I am friends with in the hallway, said hello, and less than a minute later, we are in tears, there's just so much to deal with right now," said Paradis.

Paradis has a lot on her plate, but she said what hasn't changed, is her love for her students, saying it's been tough to see teachers attacked on social media for feeling unsafe teaching during this pandemic. 

"Teachers care about our students, more than we care about anything. Teachers, especially in West Ada School District, are not trying to say we are more important or less important than any other worker, or that we deserve more than somebody else. Whether you work at a grocery store, or in a hospital, or in a school building right now, you deserve a safe environment, and you deserve to have an employer who is there supporting you in getting that safe environment," said Paradis. "My district, we're lucky enough we have a mental health program where our employees of the district are able to get free counseling sessions." 

West Ada School Districts spokesperson Char Jackson told KTVB that teachers in her district are also feeling the stress of this unusual school year.

"It's just very uncertain, and we're asking teachers to do things and work in ways that they've never worked before," said Jackson. "It's just a lot of added stress and we understand that at the district. That's why we would encourage anyone who is having issues or having problems to reach out and get some help, and we do have a resource for that at the district." 

The West Ada Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to any staff member, or anyone living in the household. Jackson said usage of the district employee assistance program is up about 8% right now. 

"That's a good indication that people are needing help and they are reaching out so we take that as a positive sign that they are utilizing this program," Jackson told KTVB. "It's all private and confidential, we don't know when you access this program and you call the number and it's 24/7. In your benefit is six free sessions, and if you choose to go on after those six sessions, mental health is also a benefit in our health insurance program. We just encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out for help right now, we can't do this alone." 

KTVB also talked with Nampa School District Superintendent Paula Kellerer, who said she is committed to making mental health a priority for the staff. 

"Our teachers by nature are just givers, and they are giving beyond 100 percent right now," said Kellerer. "We're accessing some national experts who are helping us have conversations with staff, we have also accessed local experts. I write a letter every Friday to our staff and there's always a paragraph in there that says here's your permission to walk away, here's your permission to focus on you, here's your permission to do something that renews you and builds you up and you need to do that, you have done an amazing job, now stop for a moment and make sure you care for yourself!" 

The Nampa School District is also offering on-site staff counseling from outside vendors at many school buildings, in partnership with the Employee Assistance Program. 

"So that safe place, that place is just down the hallway versus trying to pick up the phone, make an appointment, and making a big deal, it's happening in their buildings so we are continuing to expand that," said Kellerer. 

Kellerer also had some advice for teachers who may be overwhelmed with all the added responsibilities right now of teaching online, or in person. 

"I'd encourage them to recognize it, be okay with it," Kellerer said. "I would find a thought partner, somebody they can talk with, that can even be a colleague. I wouldn't be afraid to access the support that our mental health counseling community can provide us, whether that's your own EAP or other independent providers that are out there." 

She also has some advice for other superintendents and those in administration. 

"Number one, recognize that it is a need. Our teaching staff is giving three, four, five times more than they have ever given. Then they are caring for students and dealing with parents," said Kellerer. "We still have a long way to go in making sure that everyone has access to what they need."

For teacher Erin Paradis, getting the word out to other teachers that there is help available, and that there's no shame in getting that help, is important. 

"We're working to make sure staff are aware of that and taking advantage of it," said Paradis. "When you have someone who cares for you and expresses that care just by asking honestly and openly, how are you doing? It's emotional to have that support there. I just hope that everyone knows we all want what's best for our students, that's our number one priority whatever it looks like." 

Watch more 'Hello Idaho':

Watch our latest conversations about mental health in our YouTube playlist:

Editor's Note: Each health center is hyperlinked and will take you to information such as services and all clinic locations.

Resources for teachers:

SCHOOL DISTRICT EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PLANS (EAP): Many districts in Idaho offer several FREE counseling sessions with a mental health professional. If this is something you think you can benefit from, please talk to your principal or school district office.

1. Idaho Strong Initiative:

Idaho Strong is an initiative from the Department of Health and Welfare developed to help address the impacts of COVID-19. The program provides support for Idahoans struggling with the effects of the pandemic by facilitating emotional support, resource linkage, skills for building resilience, and community education.

Through the Idaho Strong program, there is a COVID Help Now Line. To access the COVID Help Now Line, individuals can call or text (986) 867-1073 or call Toll Free (866) 947-5186 to speak to a representative. COVID Help Now Line is staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mountain Time, seven days a week. Callers may also leave a message during off hours and receive a return call the following day. Responders do not classify, label, or diagnose people and no records or case files are kept. We are here to listen, and here to help.

The Idaho Strong program has seven trained responders throughout the state who are available to support the needs of our fellow Idahoans as we navigate these challenging times. 

You can call, text, or email your region representative: 

Region 1 (Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai, Shoshone Counties): Contact Alacia Handy at 208-982-0821 or Alacia.Handy@dhw.idaho.gov

Region 2 (Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis, Nez Perce Counties): Wesley Neisler, 986-200-8685 or Wesley.Neisler1@dhw.idaho.gov

Region 3 (Adams, Canyon, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Washington Counties): Lillian Toumey, 986-200-8995 or Lillian.Toumey@dhw.idaho.gov

Region 4 (Ada, Boise, Elmore, Valley Counties): Jenna Sheldon, 986-200-8996 or Jenna.Sheldon@dhw.idaho.gov

Region 5 (Blaine, Camas, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, Twin Falls Counties): Jennifer Ramos, 986-200-8043 or Jennifer.Ramos@dhw.idaho.gov

Region 6 (Bannock, Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida, Power Counties): Tara Contreras, 986-200-9756 or Tara.Contreras@dhw.idaho.gov

Region 7 (Bingham, Bonneville, Butte, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Jefferson, Lemhi, Madison, Teton Counties): Shannon Fox, 986-200-9402 or Shannon.Fox@dhw.idaho.gov

The Department of Health & Welfare is also offering counseling assistance for frontline workers (TEACHERS): We recognize the stress of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak puts frontline workers at an increased risk for experiencing secondary traumatic stress reactions. A frontline worker can call 866-536-0239 and receive 24-7 telephonic crisis counseling, as well as screening and benefit navigation services if the caller calls during work hours Monday-Friday. For individuals who do not have access to behavioral health services through their current benefits, or who have significant financial barriers to accessing those benefits, they can receive up to five free confidential sessions with a licensed behavioral health professional. 

2. Idaho Primary Care Association – These are health centers that provide health services to anyone/everyone and work specifically to provide service within public schools.

Contact: Kyle Rooks, Policy and Communications Director, Idaho Primary Care Association – email: krooks@idahopca.org cell: 208-899-1337

3. Idaho Coaching Network (ISDE) has been hosting virtual workshops centered around resiliency that are open to all Idaho educators: 

4. Boise School District -  Virtual Peace Room  - “This Virtual Peace Room is a place for students and families to find tools and strategies for managing emotions and feelings. We are here to support you!”

5. Vallivue School District – Joey Palmer, Federal Programs Director – providing many innovative self-care strategies and methods for teachers and staff in the district 

6. West Ada School District - The district offers professional development opportunities that can help with mental health several times throughout the school year. (Ask your principal for more information on this.)

*Self-care for Educators – This centers around the understanding of what self-care truly looks like and discover ways to integrate self-care practices into already full lives. Participants will leave with a self-care plan.

*Cultivating Mindfulness - This offers methods that are helpful in both the classroom and in life. Participants will leave with a personal plan for the cultivation of mindfulness habits.

6. Headspace is a free meditation app for K-12 educators.

7. MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDER FAIR 

The purpose of the Mental Health Provider Fair is to bring community mental health providers together with school counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses so they may serve students and families in the best way possible. Knowing what resources are available in our own community is vital to the well-being and success of all students as well as parents/guardians, especially during this global pandemic.

At this event, guests will meet community mental health providers who will have informational booths set up at the fair. School counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses are welcome to come, free of charge, to meet one-on-one with local providers and learn about their services and how they may benefit your students and parents/guardians.

Who: District school counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses 

When: Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Times: 

2:00 – 3:00 pm – High School Counselors

3:00 – 4:00 pm – Middle School Counselors

4:00 – 5:00 pm - Elementary School Counselors

*social workers, psychs and nurses can come during any time slot

Where: West Ada School District – 1303 E. Central Dr. Meridian – White Cloud Auditorium (through the training center entrance at the east end of the building)