Re-elect Dan Lipinski Congressman

New Teacher Breakfast Puts Focus on Mental Health Issues


The Doings La Grange

Social and emotional learning is important to the success of the modern student, the principal of LaGrange Highlands Middle School told 120 new area teachers during a welcome breakfast Tuesday.

“We need to be just as focused on social and emotional learning as the rest of the curriculum,” Mike Papierski told the 210 teachers and administrators attending the annual event at the La Grange County Club.

Papierski shared an outline of five indices that Highlands Elementary District 106 concentrated on, including self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

“It’s a foundation for maximizing the children’s achievement academically,” he said.

Stetson Steele, social studies teacher at La Grange Highlands Middle School, said the learning method led to the creation of a special class for students struggling academically and with emotional problems.

“I realized the importance of social and emotional learning,” he said. “Not just for the kids now, but for when they become adults.”

Kimberly Knake, a representative from the National Alliance of Mental Illness, said one in five children ages 18 to 24 have symptoms of mental health issues, but only 50 percent of them receive any diagnosis.

“They begin to mask their symptoms with alcohol and drugs,” Knake said. “We hear this from families all the time.”

Cindy Perkins, chairperson of the Chamber board, runs Little People’s Country, an arts and education academy in La Grange. She stressed the value of what people like Papierski were trying to accomplish.

“This is one of the things we have to do as a society,” she said.

Carolyn Bonistalli, a clinical social worker affiliated with the La Grange Area Department of Special Education, was ecstatic with the approach taken by Papierski.

“I thought it was excellent,” she said. “Being a social worker, it hit home for me.”

The West Suburban Chamber of Commerce and Industry organizes the breakfast to kick off the year and welcome new teachers from Lyons Township High School District 204, Riverside Brookfield High School District 208 and elementary districts Western Springs 101, La Grange 102, La Grange-Countryside 105, Highlands 106 and Pleasantdale 107.

Also included were teachers from Nazareth Academy, St Cletus, St Francis Xavier, Helping Hand Center and LADSE.

A student group, the LeaderShop, presented Watch My Feet, a series of skits where students addressed issues relating to mental health, including anxiety, body image, suicide, addiction and learning disabilities.

“We are going to change the world,” one of the students told the audience, sparking a standing ovation.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Western Springs Democrat and former college professor, joked about obtaining a Ph.D. because he didn’t have the nerve to walk into an elementary or high school classroom.

“I love this event,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite events of the year.”

He said the teaching profession was“undervalued.

“You have a greater impact on our community and our country than anyone outside the family,” Lipinski said.

Suzi Wirtz, president and CEO of the Chamber, served as emcee and spoke of the importance of education in relation to the business world and greater community.

“These kids will someday be business and community leaders,” she said.

Morgan Gallagher, a new special education teacher with Lyons Township, comes from Palatine and thought the breakfast was a good way to get to know people in the area.

“I was surprised at how large this area is and how many towns it served,” she said.

She said she was particularly impressed by the skits put on by the LeaderShop students.

“Those kids were awesome,” she said.

Gallagher said her field of study was one that might not have received as much attention as some others in the past, but that was changing, saying, “it’s definitely up and coming.”

Brooke Martyn who teaches at Pleasantdale Elementary School also attended the breakfast.

“It was awesome,” she said, “especially when the kids did their skit.”

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