‘We are exhausted’: Port Huron school district announces mental health day for teachers, students

Superintendent says learning can’t happen until kids, teachers are well

The COVID pandemic has really taken a toll on just about everyone. That's why a superintendent of a Metro Detroit school district decided to give everyone a mental health day. An extra, unexpected day off. More education coverage: https://www.clickondetroit.com/topic/Education/

PORT HURON, Mich. – The superintendent at Port Huron Area School District decided his district needed a mental health day.

That’s right: An extra unexpected day off for teachers and students. They’re back in school and they’re learning but this is anything but normal. Appearances are deceiving especially in school where students, teachers and staff are dealing with real emotional, and sometimes physical, trauma of living through and learning through a pandemic.

Aubrey, a 4th grader, doesn’t feel like she did well during remote learning, and now she has to relearn how to learn again.

“I was pretty nervous because I thought I might forget how to do things,” she said.

Fourth grade teacher Sarah Driscoll has raw emotions bubbling up just beneath the surface of every word she speaks about the last nearly two years.

“We are exhausted,” she said.

Like every other teacher she has pulled it together for her class.

“Nothing in college prepared us for what we’ve had to deal with the last two years in education,” she said. “You see staff who break down. You see it on the kids’ faces, you see the frustration. You see them getting stressed out and getting frustrated and it’s seen at home as well with my own daughter.”

That’s why Driscoll was so grateful when the district announced Dec. 10 they are shutting down for a mental health day. He means it: Shut it down.

“I don’t want any emails. I don’t want anyone in the buildings. I don’t want any custodians coming in to catch up on those rooms or teachers doing a planning session. Take the day off. Be with your family. Do some wellness. Be with your family. Do some wellness, take care of yourself.,” said superintendent Theo Kerhoulas.

This is a superintendent who walks to the beat of his own drummer and will happily greet any stranger with a rendition from his authentic Australian didgeridoo. He is in tune with what’s going on in his district.

“Obviously here our main goal is academics but we can’t do anything until the kids are well. Our kids haven’t seen doctors, dentists, anything in 18 months so we have to start with wellness,” he said.

While Dec. 10 is just one day, it actually isn’t. It is an idea and a demonstration that goes beyond the day.

“The toll it’s taking on them, the exhaustion, and they need this in their lives right now,” said Kerhoulas. “They need this in their lives right now, and we’re able to do it.”.

This district has about 7,000 students, so on Dec. 10 that’s lot of decompression.

More: Mental Health Matters stories

About the Author:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.