Rochester teacher’s ‘mental health check in’ board lets students express how they’re feeling


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A Rochester teacher’s unique idea is making a big difference in the minds of her students.

Miss Kesha James teaches sixth grade ELA, or English Language Arts at School No. 34 in the Rochester City School District. She’s a Rochester native, a graduate of Franklin High School and has been teaching for 13 years at RCSD. She is also a marriage and family therapist on the side, and she is also pursuing a Masters degree in educational administration.

At the start of each class, her students start off their day in a unique way. James is embracing “social emotional learning,” what she calls the foundation of education, along with mental health education. At the start of this year, she put up the “mental health check in” board. Students can anonymously put a clip, which tells James how they’re feeling.

“It’s either you’re great, Ok, you’re ‘meh,’ you’re struggling, or you’re in a dark place,” said student Charles Banks.

Charles Banks, right

“I have to start at the very bottom,” James said. “Are kids tired, are they hungry, are there things that they’re stressing about, did they just get into an argument on the bus. So I wanted to make sure that I was seeing them, and not just them as students, but them as human beings first.”

James recognizes it’s not her job to “fix” the kids, but understands the importance of support at the same time.

“Developmentally, these kids can’t leave their struggles at the door,” James said. “They bring everything with them. I also understand it’s not my job to fix it, but what I can do is provide a space for them just to be heard.”

If they’re not feeling better, they can go to the “calm corner” to relax and blow off some steam, any time during class.

“If you’re in a dark place, where you’re sad, or you’re angry, you can just go there and play with squishies and get your anger out and stuff,” student Phillip Lagares said.

This helps her as a teacher.

“And right there it gives me a gauge on do I need to stop, and I do need to do some sort of breathing activity, do we have to do a little bit of mindfulness, before we actually jump into the lesson,” James said. “Because for me, the very first thing I do is relationship building. It’s how are you, who are you, what do you like to do … I want to know all about their lives because then I can better gauge what I bring into the classroom.”

Of course, the students appreciate it too.

“She loves us in a certain way, and we’re all proud of that,” Banks said.

But James is never one to slow down, or lose sight of the big picture.

“I wished that every single classroom in this country focused on social emotional learning,” James said. “I would love to go to every single school and present about this.”

Hear from the other kids here:

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