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Kindergarten teacher's request for mental health books goes viral

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 3/5/2018 By Jerry Davich, Chicago Tribune
a person standing in front of a store: Tina DeBrock, a kindergarten teacher at Protsman Elementary School in Dyer, Ind. looks through some of the donated books on mental health wellness. © Jerry Davich/Chicago Tribune/TNS Tina DeBrock, a kindergarten teacher at Protsman Elementary School in Dyer, Ind. looks through some of the donated books on mental health wellness.

"Think about it."

Tina DuBrock repeatedly yet gently tells this to her kindergartner students at Protsman Elementary School in Dyer.

"This is brand new to you, but you'll learn it quickly if you think about it," DuBrock told them again one Wednesday morning when I visited her classroom.

Her class of 18 kids, some with special needs, were each given a number from 1 to 10. Their task was to find a partner whose number added up to 10 along with their number. Some kids figured it out immediately. Others not so quickly.

DuBrock, who has been teaching for 15 years, was patient as she watched.

"This classroom is my calling. I love what I do," she told me in between lessons.

Each day, she teaches the building blocks of learning, and how to interact peacefully with others, to our youngest generation of residents. It's not easy work. It's not as simple as it seems. And it has caused her to lose sleep on many occasions, especially lately.

"My newsfeed is full of school shootings, school safety plans, gun control debates, and arming teachers," she recently wrote on her Facebook page. "What bothers me most is parents blaming schools/teachers and teachers blaming parents."

Blaming is not allowed in her classroom. It's poisonous for young, impressionable minds. She teaches tots how to give a "double thumbs-up," not how to point a finger. She would like to see adults follow their lead.

"We have enough negative these days," she said.

While too many of us play the blame game, DuBrock shapes the minds of children. And while our country's lawmakers debate whether to arm teachers with weapons, DuBrock is arming students with what she believes they desperately need.

"I can make school a place they want to be, and teach them that learning can be fun. I worry about them day and night," she wrote on Facebook.

Her recent post went viral, grabbing the attention of the social media world with behind-the-scenes glimpses of her job.

She wrote, "Over the years I've had children that have been abused, neglected, a parent or both parents in jail, more parents that have been terminally ill than I can count, and children that have lost a parent to illness, and a few to suicide."

DuBrock knows her students inside and out. She greets them at the door every morning. She tells them they're loved. She has given thousands of hugs, believing that each hug may be the only hug a child receives that day.

"Other students come in with parents that are inflicted with addictions, depression and other mental illnesses. Some (kids) come in with high anxiety to a point where they already see a weekly specialist. All these situations used to be rare or even unheard of, but now it is part of a sad norm," she wrote.

She worries about their mental health as much as their physical well-being. Earlier this school year DuBrock wrote a grant proposal for an after-school yoga and mindfulness program. More than 100 students signed up.

"I tell them that school is their safe place and I have always believed it," DuBrock said.

In her post, she put out a request for materials for her classroom, citing school budget constraints and the lack of state funding. Along with the school's six-member kindergarten team of educators, they launched a movement to prioritize mental health education in schools, beginning in DuBrock's classroom.

"It needs to be a part of our school day," DuBrock said. "As our country's climate seems to be hitting a low, a needed step to a solution became more eminent."

DuBrock and her team created a "wish list" of mental wellness books to be purchased on and shipped to their school. The titles include, "The Alphabet War: A Story about Dyslexia," "My Friend Has ADHD (Friends with Disabilities)," and "What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming OCD."

"I want to provide my families with lessons they can hopefully use for a lifetime," she wrote. "Our team kept asking ourselves what more could we do to bring social and emotional learning into our classroom."

a group of people posing for a photo: Tina DeBrock's "kindergarten team" with some of the donated books at Protsman Elementary School in Dyer, Ind. © Jerry Davich/Chicago Tribune/TNS Tina DeBrock's "kindergarten team" with some of the donated books at Protsman Elementary School in Dyer, Ind.

This wasn't the first time she used social media to acquire materials for her kids. She has previously accepted donated stools, tricycles, tumbling mats, a mini trampoline and art easel. Her expectations were low, hoping for possibly a handful of new or used books.

Within two hours after she posted her request, 54 books were purchased.

"Our K team is in awe of everyone's generosity," she told me. "The huge outpouring of support has been incredible."

After the first wave of new books were delivered, she told me, "It was Christmas in my room today. Humbled by generosity is putting it mildly."

Just days later, the running total shot up to 175 books.

"I am beyond grateful for this phenomenal support," said DuBrock, whose students will be soon using the new materials.

The kindergartners are like little sponges, absorbing every teachable moment.

"I know the answer!" one boy yelled, jumping from his spot on the floor.

"Who else knows the answer, boys and girls?" DuBrock asked her class.

Hands shot into the air. DuBrock smiled at their enthusiasm.

She knows she doesn't have all the answers to the complex questions being debated these days in our country. But she has one answer to help her kids. And possibly your kids.

"I hope the movement to support social and emotional education continues to spread," she said. "I want them to succeed not just for a test score, but as a person."

Think about it.



To contribute to DuBrock's wish list of books, visit - wishlist - lists - 3.

Books can be mailed to her attention at Protsman Elementary School, 1121 Harrison Ave., Dyer, Ind., 46311.

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