By Kelsey Weber, LCSW

The 2022-2023 school year is in session and many teachers are witnessing the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on learning. With students returning to in-person learning, teachers are noticing a large learning gap.

According to the Horace Mann Educators Corporation, teachers are reporting significant learning loss for many students, both academically, socially, and emotionally. Data from the CDC is also showing that virtual learning presents more risks than in-person learning related to parent and child mental and emotional health. Teachers have estimated their students are behind by more than three months. 

A separate study by McKinsey & Company found similar results that revealed virtual learning was a poor substitute for in-person learning. Some teachers reported the overall effectiveness of virtual learning only slightly better than skipping school completely. Educators in schools with higher percentages of low-income families found that virtual learning was ineffective and students struggled more. This is particularly true among black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities.

One of the biggest obstacles teachers faced when they returned to teaching in-person was the gap between high-performing students and those who struggle academically. So, where do we go from here? As teachers, what can we do to help our students succeed?

1.)   Listen to your students’ concerns. It is essential as educators to demonstrate understanding as well as empathy. Offer one-on-one conversations with your students to show you care, want to listen, and help.

2.)   Check in with your students often. Some may need more time to complete a task or to understand an assignment. When working in the classroom, provide students with opportunities to take breaks, move around, and talk with their peers.

3.)   Watch for changes in behaviors. If you notice changes, check in with that student and seek additional support from your school counselor or social worker. For example, if a student is coming to class each day crying, have a conversation about why they are upset. Providing extra support and watching for these signs can help bridge the gap.

4.)   Offer after school support for students. Offering an afterschool program or meeting time can be beneficial for students who are falling behind. This will allow one-on-one time with your student and time to ask questions, catch up on work, and work at their own pace.

5.)   Stay connected with your students and families. If you notice a student is struggling, reach out to the student and their family. More than likely, if they are showing signs of stress at school they are showing signs at home as well.

6.)   Take care of yourself. Working in education has its own challenges, but more so post-pandemic. Be sure to know your limits, maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits, rest, exercise, connect with friends and family, and seek support when you need it.

Only $5 per ticket! Mario has appeared on Sesame Street, Universal Kids, and even live on tour with David Blaine, who calls him “the best kids’ magician in the world!!”

By Katherine Baker, LCSW, LCAC

Most people are looking for ways to be more confident in their daily lives. But what exactly is self-confidence? According to Webster’s Dictionary, “Self-Confidence is defined as confidence in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities.”  

A lot of people do not realize that manners and self-confidence are closely related. Combine these qualities with self-esteem, and you have the building blocks to becoming a healthy and productive human being. Parents have the responsibility of role modeling good manners and self-confidence for their children. Children learn how to function as a human being by what they observe from the caregivers in their lives.

When you know the proper way to act, you show respect for yourself and others.  People are always watching each other. Adults should be a positive role model for those around them. As adults, you are teaching young people how to respond to daily situations. I would encourage you to do your best and always try to do the right thing. Show love, support, and encouragement to build others up versus tearing them down with negative words and actions.  

What are basic good manners?  This basic list includes the following:

1.  Be thoughtful.

2.  Be cheerful.

3.  Be generous. 

4.  Be cooperative. 

5.  Be helpful.

6.  Don’t be bossy. 

7.  Don’t put people down or say rude things. 

8.  Respect the privacy of others. 

9.  Be on time for appointments.

10.  Be honest.

Implementing and practicing these 10 positive manners can lead one to feel more in control, feel better about yourself (self-respect), reduce stress, and allow for a general sense of peace.

Keep in mind that all of these factors are intertwined, and some days are easier than others. Give yourself grace if you do the wrong thing. Apologize genuinely and say you are sorry for your behavior if you do something to negatively impact others. Make it a priority not to repeat harmful actions.

It is important that you practice being a good human being, as well as role modeling for others the good and not the bad. Remember that your kind words may be that person’s only “pick-me up” or encouragement received that day. It costs nothing to say “hello” and smile at others as you walk by them.

Life is difficult. You do not know what trials in daily living others are going through.   To say the least, these past two years have been stressful for everyone. Be nice and support your fellow human beings.

Support Youth First by purchasing half pot raffle tickets now! The winner will be drawn on September 5, 2021. Raffle tickets can be purchased from Youth First staff and board members, at the Youth First office Monday through Friday 8am to 12pm, or by filling out the contact form here.

By Kacie Shipman, LSW – July 20, 2022 –

Children and adults may react to stress in different ways. Trauma and stress can cause the brain to feel challenged or threatened, and the part of the brain that reacts is often on high alert. Our instinct is to protect ourselves, often by fleeing, fighting, or freezing from our perceived danger.

When individuals have experienced trauma or are in high stress situations, their behavior can sometimes become confusing to others. The term “trigger” is often used to communicate what caused someone to enter a state of dysregulation. Our brain works in a way that allows us to react before we think. It is a means of protection, although when trauma has been experienced our brain can set off false alarms.

What causes dysregulation? Our body has five great senses: taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing. For example, a certain smell may trigger someone to experience dysregulation before thinking. If abuse was experienced in a home that often smelled like coffee, the smell of coffee alone could trigger the brain to go into a protective defense mode. This correlation is easier for adults to recognize than children.

Children in a high alert state are not able to reason. It is crucial to help the child regulate their body and mind so they can process stressful situations later. There are many ways to help children and adults regulate, or “calm down.”

It is impossible to know what difficulties others have experienced. That is why it is crucial to treat everyone as if they are functioning in a high alert state or have experienced trauma. Regulating children through their environment can be very impactful in managing behaviors that are difficult to understand.

For instance, if a child is often misbehaving, it’s important to track those incidents. There is a possibility that behaviors may be occurring in a predictable pattern. Making small changes in the environment can help eliminate stressors. Creating a safe relationship with a child can also create an environment where their brain is able to stay at a level of calmness with the ability to reason more than react.

The most critical part of supporting an individual with trauma is maintaining your own self-regulation. Being supportive in a non-confrontational way will encourage the brain to recognize the situation as safe and non-threatening. Understanding our own triggers and challenge areas will help us stay regulated in moments that may provoke unwanted emotions.

Practicing self-regulation skills can be done in many ways including yoga, meditation, or journaling. Finding a positive and encouraging support team who understands the impact of trauma on children can be a tool to maintain ongoing work with those who have experienced it.

By Jenna Kruse, LSW – June 29, 2022 –

It’s no secret that there has been a great shift in the types of activities that children prefer. According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outside, while spending over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. These numbers are concerning and are directly correlated to the increase of mental health concerns in young students.

There are many benefits of outdoor, unstructured play for children. Unstructured time outside is said to reduce stress and is important to foster skills such as creativity, responsibility, and confidence. Outdoor play also improves physical health and overall mood. Here are several other benefits to sending your children outside for playtime.

  1. Playing outside promotes creativity. When children participate in unstructured play outside, they are challenged to create their own activities, use their surrounding resources, and interact socially with those around them.
  2. Children learn how to care for the living things in their environment. Responsibility is taught in this environment because children quickly learn that, in nature, living things do not survive if they are not tended to.
  3. Making choices helps children build confidence. Children have the power to make decisions about what activities they want to play and where.
  4. Playing outside reduces stress. Children who play outside can take a break from stressors such as homework, social media, technology, etc.
  5. Another benefit of outdoor play is a dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health and is absorbed from sun exposure. It is important for children to spend time in the sun, as this vitamin is not as easily absorbed in large quantities through food.
  6. Children thrive in open spaces. Outdoor play promotes better physical health due to the large space for children to move, play, and explore. When children play inside, they are often more restricted. Several sources suggest children need at least one hour of physical exercise a day. To create the right environment for outdoor learning, it is important to eliminate harmful tools or hazards such as chemicals. It is important to listen to your child’s feedback and interests, plan outdoor time into your busy daily schedule, and reduce barriers for outdoor play time.

You can participate in several different outdoor activities with your child. Finding a local park with a playground, taking a walk, throwing a Frisbee, swimming at the local pool, or taking a hike are all great family activities.

It is important to note that students are more willing to play and spend time outside if they have positive role models showing them the way.

Outdoor play has many great benefits. How can you begin to reduce screen time and increase unstructured outdoor play for your child?

By Heather Miller – June 22, 2022 –

Author Jill Churchill once wrote, “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”

Before having children, I had many ideas of what I would and would not do as a mom. I would limit screen time, offer healthy snacks, have a consistent daily schedule, and always remain calm when correcting behavior. Then I had a baby. Two years later, another baby with special needs joined our family.

I had a decision to make. I could try in vain to be a “perfect parent” knowing I would fail, or instead choose to give myself grace. As a parent, you will make mistakes. You will have tough days. Some days it may seem as if nothing went right, but the sun will rise again the next morning.

An article by HuffPost focuses on what can be learned from making mistakes. This information also gives insight into lessons children may learn when parents recognize perfection is not the goal. These lessons are summarized as the following:

  1. When someone has a bad day, move forward and make an effort to make tomorrow better. Children will learn that it is normal to have “off” days. Focusing on the present and being mindful of current circumstances is an important lesson for all ages.
  1. Perfection is not required to be loved and accepted. Family and home are intended to be safe zones. People can be their genuine selves, knowing that they’re loved unconditionally. Behavior can be corrected and positive coping skills can be retaught. However, there needs to be a separation between disliking behavior and disliking the person. It will help children feel safe to have open communication with parents. Additionally, children will learn that it is not necessary to expect perfectionism from themselves. While we want kids to try their best, attempting to be perfect often causes increased anxiety and lower self-esteem.
  1. It is okay to ask for help. Accepting support is equally as important as providing support to others. Learning to accept help from trustworthy adults teaches children how to communicate their needs. Children learn that if they are having a rough day, there is no shame in saying so. Empathy is often a focus, as learning to consider how others feel is important. It is equally as important to teach children to recognize when they need extra support.

If parents model this behavior, children will learn to give themselves and others the same type of grace. Youth First offers several programs geared at supporting parents and families. For more information, please visit our website at youthfirstinc.org.

By Brooke Skipper, LCSW – June 15, 2022 –

Most of us are familiar with the unpleasant feeling of being excluded. In order to raise children who celebrate diversity and include others, we need to be comfortable starting conversations about differences.

These conversations don’t have to be scary! Children are innately open-minded and seek honest answers out of curiosity. They don’t feel discomfort about differences unless we portray a discomfort to them.

If your child points out differences or questions you about them, take time to pause and have a positive conversation that explains diversity and the value of all people.

Our individual gifts and challenges come in many different forms. We need to demonstrate this is not only okay, but something to celebrate. By doing so, we can model self-acceptance and peer acceptance.

Here are some tips for teaching your child to be more inclusive.

  1. Confront your own biases and be comfortable challenging them. Conscious or unconscious, we all have biases. These can come from our parents, our upbringings, and our experiences in the world. Acknowledging they exist and working to overcome them is a crucial step to ensuring we do not pass down negative biases to our children.
  1. Model inclusive behavior. Children are always watching, listening, and learning. Make sure the behavior you are projecting is the behavior you desire your children to emulate at home, school, and in the community. Celebrate diversity, use respectful language, and treat everyone with kindness and respect. Remember the golden rule to love your neighbor as yourself. If you live your life by this rule, your child will as well.
  1. Teach your child to be full of empathy and positive self-esteem. A child who feels good about who they are is more likely to be inclusive of others. Children who empathize and understand how others are feeling will be more likely to stand up for what is right.
  1. Talk about bullying. Once your child understands what empathy is and how to display it, make sure they know how to proactively stand up for others and report bullying behaviors to an adult in charge. Encourage them to befriend students who sit alone.
  1. Expose your child to diverse people and experiences. We often belong to social circles and communities of people who look like us, believe in similar things, have similar jobs and incomes, etc. Providing opportunities for your child to encounter diversity can help normalize differences and teach children there is no “one way” to be. You can do this by visiting museums, attending multi-cultural events, and reading stories that celebrate diverse characters.


Most importantly, do not shy away from the topic of differences. Be prepared to openly discuss the topic with your child in an honest, age-appropriate way.

Evansville, IN – United Way of Southwestern Indiana (UWSWI) is thrilled to announce an investment of $400,000 into improving local mental health care access for low-income residents. The Mental Health Pathway Grant is the first funding opportunity for mental health services since UWSWI shifted its focus to address root causes of poverty and help families overcome barriers to economic sufficiency. Research shows a link between poverty and mental health challenges. Likewise, there is evidence that mental health struggles prevent individuals from escaping poverty, creating a vicious cycle. A significant increase in demand for mental health care services is creating a strain on local providers, which is further limiting access.

Funding will be invested into the following local nonprofit applicants: Catholic Charities will receive $177,840 to increase the hours and capacity of a part-time counselor. In addition, grant funds will help underwrite the financial loss of providing a sliding scale fee model to low-income clients who otherwise cannot afford mental health care. Youth First is awarded $222,160 to help underwrite the cost of hiring additional social work staff. The funds will enable Youth First to hire a social worker fluent in Spanish, a Substitute School Support Specialist who will fill the gap when school social workers are absent, and a Clinical Supervisor to support the increase in capacity. Youth First identified a gap in service for students whose primary language is Spanish.

This grant will help extend service to students who were previously underserved. UWSWI is striving to develop a best-in-class grant evaluation process, which includes a thorough evaluation by local experts in the respective Pathway, as well as in financial operations. Scott Branam, CAO of Deaconess Cross Pointe commented, “With the overwhelming demand we are currently seeing in our nation and community for behavioral health, we are very excited United Way is dedicating funds for this critical service. As a member of the review taskforce, it was impressive to see the time and energy put into the process, as well as the rigor that went into the proposal review and selection of grantees. It’s a shame there is not enough money to fund every application.”

For more information on United Way’s Pathways to Potential, visit unitedwayswi.org/pathwaygrants.

By Krissy Melhiser, LSW – May 26, 2022 –

What does it take to see our children grow to be strong and healthy? Is it everyone’s responsibility?

Parenting can be so difficult at times. It seems like an endless pursuit, and you wonder if the tireless chase will result in a positive outcome. As a school social worker, I hear countless stories of the hardships parents face with their kids. Through the ups and downs, I often wonder as each generation faces the same foundational issues, what does it take to produce a healthy generation?

Since being in high school myself, I have seen an increase in anxiety and depression in young people. A world that is constantly transforming provides a multitude of reasons for this increase in mental health challenges. How can we ensure the next generation isn’t forced to grapple with more issues than the previous generation?

So what is needed? Change! A word like “change” can be so simple to understand, yet it may be one of the most difficult to put into action.

Change requires looking beyond our circumstances to find the root of the issues younger generations face. Most of us would find it is easy to change our laundry detergent or perhaps make small changes in our routine, but deep-rooted change takes more time and commitment.

So what can we do as parents, guardians, and youth advocates who have an influence on younger generations?

First we must turn inward, observe, and recognize what we need to own up to. As parents, we are not given an instruction manual. Much of what we know is learned from our own parents. Recognize that not everything we are taught is good or healthy. Therefore, it’s important for all of us to be introspective and make changes where they are necessary.

The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” If we do the same things over and over, how can we expect change to occur for ourselves and those around us? Lead by example! Envision yourself looking into a mirror, but on the other side is not your reflection; it’s your child’s reflection instead. With every movement, word, attitude, and deed they mirror you. Are you okay with the reflection you see?

To create change, sometimes generational bonds of negative unhealthy habits need to be broken. As human beings we have proven that we can and have evolved. Therefore, we know that change can happen if we commit to seeing it through.

My challenge is this: Ask yourself what you need to own up to. You and your kids will be better for it. The negative generational cycle can and needs to be broken, not only for your own mental health and well-being, but also for the benefit of your family, community, and society as a whole.

It’s our responsibility to produce a generation that can take on the future without unnecessary hurdles. Our actions have a ripple effect on so much more than we realize. May the ripples you produce be healthy and good ones.