NAMIBA: Mental health is a simmering crisis for many of our schoolchildren, partly hidden by isolation but increasingly evident in the distress of parents, the worries of counselors and early research.
As a member of the school board how would you address this crisis?
Jonathan (Juan) Matta: To begin, I can’t think of a better question amidst what has otherwise been a campaign season focused on seemingly everything but our students and their wellbeing. As a parent of a daughter with General Anxiety Disorder, we’ve experienced lows I didn’t know possible, nor would I wish upon my worst enemy, all well before the pandemic. Mental Health and Social Emotional Wellbeing is not a simmering crisis; it is here. We, along with many others, live it every day, and it needs to be a central part of our discussions as a Board and a Community, NOW. This begins with awareness of how affected our students are by the current environment of having been forced into social withdrawal and cancelled passion based pursuits (i.e., athletics, performing arts, extracurriculars, etc.) that they were told were “too dangerous” for them to be a part of, yet never acknowledging the real darkness of what those cancellations result in for that person/student. We need to accept that from Kindergarten through Seniors, our students have lived a year unlike any other in how draconian mandates prevent them from doing things they love, along with organically interacting with peers, which is a natural element of being who we are as a species. And then (and NOW), we need to take ACTION. Action includes us elevating the conversation to the top of the list of Board commitments; this should be #1 on that list, and not just now, but at all times. From there, we team dynamically with each student, both with language that invites moments of sparkle, happiness, and growth, and in experiences that invite for personalization, passion, and opportunities to be who they are.
I feel it important to note that I’ve seen this work before, too. Our own story includes our daughter’s 3rd grade teacher, 4th grade teacher, 5th grade teacher, 6th grade teaching team, 7th grade teaching team, Hough Principal, Prairie Principal, and a team of counselors all taking the time to be aware (often more so than my Wife and I at times), connect deeply to her, and then find solutions to support her mental state. One of the greatest gifts we see in those who are called to teach is they see things in our kids that we, as parents, often don’t even see. When I think about Pam, Mary, Kristin, Jim, Travis, Trish, Leah, Tina, and so many others who have shown my Wife and I how much they care about our daughter and her mental wellbeing, we see a TEAM. And that TEAM is what makes Barrington and our Schools so special, and we owe that to every student, every kid, and every family. As a Board Member, my constant and unwavering commitment is to our students and families, and with that comes an obsessive championing over mental wellbeing by way of it being a Board Priority at all times.
Learn more by reading Jonathan (Juan) Matta’s feature in the Daily Herald or by following him on Instagram. More information about the election can be found on District 220’s website. For more mental health resources, subscribe to NAMI Barrington Area’s newsletter.