Teacher's 'Mental Health Check-In Board' lets students express their feelings

ROCHESTER, New York (WPVI) -- A New York teacher has a unique approach to educating her students and it starts with how they're feeling inside.

She created a mental health check-in board to help change the way students begin their day in the classroom.

Ms. Kesha James teaches sixth-grade language arts at School No. 34 in the Rochester City School District.

A Rochester native and graduate of Franklin High School, James has been teaching for 13 years at RCSD. She's also a marriage and family therapist on the side and she's also pursuing a Master's Degree in Educational Administration.

At the start of each class, her students start off their own day in class 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 on a clip.

"It's either you're great, you're ok, you're 'meh', it's I'm just whatever today, you're struggling, or you're in a dark place," said student, Charles Banks.

That tells James how they're feeling.

"I have to start at the very bottom. Are kids tired, are they hungry, are there things that they're stressing about, did they just get into an argument on the bus. You know, something with their brothers and sisters. So really I wanted to make sure that I was seeing them, and not just them as students, but them as human beings first. So I came across this on Instagram and I was like, I love this. I also understand it's not my job to fix anything. I can't fix anything. That's not what I'm here to do. But what I can do is provide a space for them to just be heard," James told WROC-TV.

If they're not feeling better, they can go to the "calm down 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," said student, Phillip Lagares.

This helps her as a teacher.

"And right there it gives me a gauge on do I need to stop and do I need to do some sort of breathing activity? Do I have to do a little bit of mindfulness before we actually jump into the lesson? Because for me, the very first thing I do is relationship building. It's not about giving them an assessment. It's how are you, who are you, what do you like to do, what do you like to eat. I want to know all about their lives because then I can better gauge what lessons I bring into the classroom," said James.

Of course, the students appreciate it too.

"She loves us in a certain way, and we're all proud of that," said Banks.

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. I would love to go to every single school and present about this," she said.
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