HCDE Head Start hosted its seventh annual Healthy Minds, Healthy Families Conference. Head Start teachers, teaching assistants, family service providers, and campus staff participated in various dynamic sessions designed to attend to mental health.
The annual event’s goal is to help Head Start employees tune in to their mental, physical, and emtional wellbeing. By learning to be aware of the challenges they may face in their professions and how to cope with them, employees, in turn, can better serve the students and families in their communities.
“It’s critically important that the people in the caring profession care for themselves so that we can optimize our service to our children and families,” said Head Start Senior Director Venetia Peacock. “Today focuses on two things. The training promotes awareness of different social-emotional and mental health concerns [in children], but we’re also addressing those same concerns for our staff. We’re very grateful to be able to offer this conference and give our people an opportunity to re-center.”
In past years, the conference has welcomed both professionals and families. However, due to safety concerns, this year’s sessions were only offered to staff to allow more room for social distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines.
As a precursor to the event, Head Start staff received a virtual keynote address from Shana D. Lewis, Ph.D., a licensed professional counselor turned executive wellness coach, author, and TEDx speaker. Lewis, who brings 20 years of experience working with high-achieving professional women, emphasized the need to “own what’s yours, and give away what’s not” to free one’s life from unnecessary burdens and undue stress.
During the two-day conference sponsored by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, attendees participated in a hybrid of virtual and in-person interactive sessions. The trainings included topics and activities such as yoga, physical fitness, art, healthy dishes on a budget, and the benefits of laughter and how to add humor to everyday life.
“It’s helpful because it helps you when you have that one child in your class that’s pushing you to your [limit] for stress. Just sitting down for a moment and taking a deep breath can help,” said Sheffield Head Start Teacher Yudalchia Hodge. “I’ll even do it with my kids. We’ll lay on our back on the carpet and just stretch to give them a break because sometimes, they might have a little stress as well, and they don’t know it because they’re babies.”
Registered yoga teacher and co-founder of Phee-nomenal Coaching LaVondia Menephee helped participants experience mindful movement and develop personal self-care plans. Menephee, who has facilitated several virtual training for Head Start, acknowledged the division’s commitment to its employees.
“In education, no person is an island. I respect that [Head Start is] so committed to making sure that the people who work with the children feel seen, loved on, and supported,” said Menefee. “Academic achievement will come, but those basic needs come first.”
In addition to conference speakers, several Head Start community partners attended the event, including Harris County Public Health’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The partners in attendance reminded Head Start staff of the valuable resources available to students and families and that many of the same services are available to them as well.
Employees stated that they would use the knowledge gained and techniques learned in their jobs and in everyday life. Peacock reiterated the joy she finds in helping her caregivers find and maintain balance.
“I hope it demonstrates to them how important they are to us and how invested we are in their wellbeing,” said Peacock.