The Gift of Anxiety and Depression Prevention: Skills We Can and Should Be Teaching Our Children
When children and teens are in the grips of worry and anxiety, adults often feel stuck as well. Parents, educators, and many therapists feel overwhelmed by the frequency and intensity of anxiety in the children they care about. They don’t know what to do and things that feel most loving and intuitive often make the problems worse. Untreated anxiety in children is one of the top predictors of depression in adolescence and young adulthood but research proves that teaching children cognitive and social skills can make a difference in preventing the development of these struggles.
Lynn Lyons, LICSW will be at the Fayston Elementary School on Thursday, February 1, 5:30-7:30 to address strategies that work and ones that don’t, offering her perspective on managing and preventing anxiety from taking over children and their families. Such as:
What adults can do to both prevent anxiety from becoming so powerful and help children manage it when it does show up?
What is the connection between anxiety and depression?
Why are breathing, relaxation, and distraction strategies sometimes ineffective?
What do we do when an anxious child is falling apart?
How can parents, schools, and outside providers work together more effectively?
Parents, educators and all those who care about the growing number of children and teens dealing with anxiety are welcome to this free event sponsored by the Fayston PTO and Early Ed. Group, Spring Hill School, Waitsfield Children’s Center and Hannah’s House. For more information call the Fayston School at 496-3636 or email Barbara@hannahshousevt.org
Bringing ‘Wonder’s’ lessons of empathy and inclusion to life for students
By Jaimie SeatonNovember 17
It isn’t often that my son jumps in the car after school full of excitement over a class assembly, but that’s what happened last spring, when Sam Drazin visited to talk about empathy and what it means to be different. Drazin was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, the same rare congenital disorder that the character Auggie Pullman has in R.J. Palacio’s best-selling book “Wonder.”
My son does not have a physical disability, but he immediately connected with Drazin’s story.
Drazin’s presentation included a discussion about growing up with a facial anomaly and undergoing seven painful surgeries while attending public school, but his message was not centered on his personal story. Rather, Drazin, 30, uses his experience to facilitate a wider discussion among students.
“After college I taught elementary school for five years, and over time, started to notice that my classroom was getting more and more diverse, and that a lot of the differences were invisible differences,” Drazin explained when I met with him recently. “I wanted to create a culture where everyone was accepted and everyone was valued. How could I do that without having conversations about differences? I wasn’t really given any tools or resources on how to have them, so I ended up using a lot of personal stories and things about myself to fuel conversations.”
The year “Wonder” came out, Drazin put together a presentation and was invited to speak to about 30 schools. In 2014, after seeing the impact the discussions were having, he founded the nonprofit Changing Perspectives to provide disability awareness programming to schools. The curriculum, which includes educator training and content on awareness, moves the conversation away from specific disabilities and inspires broader discussions and reflections about differences.
“We live in a society where it’s frowned upon to discuss these issues,” Drazin said. “The ‘Don’t talk about it, don’t stare, don’t point’ sort of mentality. And I think that kids want to talk about it and some parents don’t know how to have those conversations.”
Courtesy of Sam Drazin
Drazin recalled that he wasn’t bullied so much as a child, but when he began high school, he struggled with isolation and going the entire day without speaking to another student.
“Sometimes I think that being ignored is even worse than being recognized, even in a negative way,” said Drazin. “It would have been easier if kids noticed my differences.”
Shelburne Community School in Vermont, which has 720 students from pre-K to eighth grade, was one of the first schools to have Drazin speak, as well as to pilot the awareness curriculum, which it has been using for three years.
“A lot of people who identify with a minority group don’t see themselves in the world,” said Natalie Lodge, an elementary teacher at Shelburne, and a developer of materials for Changing Perspectives.
She told me that several students with disabilities or medical issues credit the program with allowing them to have conversations with classmates that they may not had otherwise. It’s also helped give students the tools and confidence they need to reach out to classmates who use augmented and alternative communication, such as an iPad, to communicate.
“Some students don’t know how to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak back in a traditional way, and there can be some discomfort around that,” Lodge said.
At the nearby Bradford Elementary School, Christine Smith implemented the Changing Perspectives curriculum to teach her fourth-graders about a fellow student who had Down syndrome.
“Learning about the science behind Down syndrome and watching videos of students their age with Down syndrome participating in all-inclusive activities helped students view their classmate with a different perspective,” said Smith, who has been teaching for 20 years. “There was also advice from children with Down syndrome on how to help them be better understood.”
She added that disability awareness training creates an opportunity for students to understand the challenges faced by other students, and to learn how to help a peer be successful. This is one of the central themes of Drazin’s presentations.
“Every kid has their own insecurities and things that they wish they could change about themselves and things that they’re trying to overcome,” said Drazin. “At the end of my presentation, I talk to the students about how some of our disabilities are invisible and some are physical, but we all have challenges, and everyone deserves a round of applause for the things they overcome. After one talk, a kid came up to me and gave me a note that said, ‘I don’t have any friends. I feel so alone.’ For him to give that to me means that I created a safe space for that hour where he felt that he could be vulnerable.”
The Changing Perspectives curriculum is being used in about 30 schools in New England, but Drazin’s goal is to take it nationwide, to teach kids disability awareness but also differences awareness, which he says translates to empathy.
“Kids these days don’t need to be book smart to be successful because they can look everything up,” Drazin said. “But they need to be able to collaborate, communicate and network and they need to be able to do all of those things in a global marketplace. And so they need to be empathetic. A lot of schools throw around the word empathy but they don’t really teach it explicitly. Awareness is the foundation for empathy, and the only way to create a more inclusive society is to talk about our differences.”
Nancy Mugele, head of the Kent School, a private school for pre-K through eighth grade in Maryland, said independent schools do a good job of talking about diversity and respect, but fall short when it comes to disability awareness.
“That was something that was really interesting to me about bringing Sam here last year,” Mugele said.
Drazin gave his presentation at Kent after students in fourth through eighth grades read “Wonder,” and the school has also used parts of the Changing Perspective curriculum.
“We don’t have a community with physical disabilities, but Sam is many things; he’s kind, compassionate, warm, but he’s also really funny and connects with students on a fun level,” Mugele said. “Even though he stood out in school because of his physical appearance, some of our students connected with him because they stand out in other ways.”
Drazin’s experience will resonate with any child who has ever felt ostracized, alone or different. In other words, just about every kid.
Jaimie Seaton is a freelance writer and journalist. She tweets @JaimieSeaton.
We have a guest speaker joining us next Monday, December 4th. Sam Drazin is a former teacher and creator of the disability awareness curriculum, Changing Perspectives. Sam was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a condition that affects the development of bones and other tissues of the face. This is the same condition Auggie has in the book and movie, Wonder. Through his workshop style presentation, Sam will share his early experiences with facial differences, making connections with his own life and that of Auggie.
Students will be organized by grade. The assembly for grades 3-6 grades will be an hour, 8:30-9:30. Grades K-2 will have a shorter, 40 minute assembly at 10:00-10:40.
Prior to his visit, students in grades K-2 will learn about Auggie through the book We're All Wonders. Students in grades 3-6 have some experience with Wonder through book groups, read alouds and the movie.
Interested in learning more about Treacher Collins? I encourage you to check out a recent episode of the ABC news magazine, 20/20. It can be found online here: link. (Thank you, Beth Abbott-Koch for bringing this to my attention!)
Please feel free to contact either me, or Jean Berthiaume (email@example.com), with any questions or concerns.
FES Students Learning from Local Wildlife Biologist
On Wednesday, we have a special opportunity to connect with wildlife biologist Ky and Lisa Koitzsch who are Fayston residence. We will have a whole school presentation with Ky and Lisa who will share their work with us. This presentation will take place on Wednesday, November 8th from 1:40-2:10/2:15.