teachers, classrooms, hockey

Teachers at a South Dakota hockey game were invited to scramble for dollar bills to fund their classrooms.

UPDATE: The organizers of the "Dash for Cash" have apologized and are making extra donations to all teachers who signed up for the competition. Read that story here.

Sometimes winning a prize isn't rewarding, entertainment isn't entertaining and a feel-good story doesn't feel good at all. This is one of those times.

A hockey game intermission in Sioux Falls, South Dakota this weekend included a "dash for cash," in which 5,000 $1 bills were dumped onto a carpet in the middle of the rink and a handful of local teachers got to scramble on their knees to shove as many of the bills as they could into their clothing. Whatever they grabbed they could use in their classrooms.

The people who educate our children, on their knees, competing in a mad dash to cram dollar bills into their clothing to pay for classroom supplies, while spectators watch and cheer? Who thought this was a good idea?



Video of the event, which took place after the first period of the Sioux Falls Stampede hockey game, was shared by reporter Annie Todd on Twitter. It looks just as dystopian as it sounds.

First, garbage bags full of $1 bills were dumped into a big pile. All I can think is, someone had to go get 5,000 single dollar bills and someone had to stuff them into garbage bags, knowing what was going to be done with them.

Did everyone involved here think this was a good idea? Did it warm their hearts to think of school teachers, who are already overworked and undervalued, desperately scraping the ground to pick up those dollar bills so their students could have some new books or markers or Kleenex? Really?

Then came the footage of the "dash for cash." It's been many years since I taught in a classroom, but as a former teacher, these videos genuinely made me want to cry.

Are you seeing what I'm seeing? The people who educate our children should not have to participate in demeaning public spectacles for others' entertainment in order to pay for things in their classrooms. Ever. Period.

And yet, enough people thought this was a good idea that it was organized and took place, which is baffling. Look at the description of the event on the Stampede hockey team's website:

"New this season, the Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct are looking for teachers who would like to raise some cash for their classrooms! Not just some cash, but more than $5,000 will be going back to local schools! Teachers will compete to raise money in two ways.

1) Tickets - Each teacher will have their own ticket link that they can share. Each ticket bought will equal $5 that goes back to their school! In addition, the teachers that sell the most will get additional prizes.

2) Dash for Cash - During the 1st intermission on December 11th, teachers will compete against one another to grab as much cash as they can! There will be 5,000 $1 bills on the ice and teachers will get to keep all the money they grab for their classroom!"

Why are we inviting teachers to "compete to raise money" for classrooms as if that's normal? Why are we describing teachers selling tickets to sporting events to get money for their schools as if it's a great opportunity for them and not an indictment of our educational system? (Did I mention that South Dakota ranks close to last in teacher pay?)

Teachers do enough already. Anyone who has taught in a classroom can attest that teaching alone is enough of a job and that teachers are not paid nearly enough to do it. In no civilized universe should we expect teachers to fundraise their own jobs, much less celebrate them competing for resources as a form of entertainment.

Some might say, "Hey, $5,000 is $5,000 right? Shouldn't these teachers be grateful?" I'm sure they are. Because teachers are thankful for every dollar they get to help their kids have a safe, comfortable, enriching learning environment. Most teachers—94%, according to the National Education Association—pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket, so yeah, they're happy to get anything. But if someone wants teachers to have money, just donate it. Don't turn it into a humiliating, gladiator-style competition with $1 bills. It's just gross.

I mean, try to imagine a group of doctors scrambling for cash like this in front of a crowd to buy surgical equipment. Imagine business execs dropping to their knees to pick up dollar bills as fast as they can to buy office supplies. Imagine military personnel grasping at singles to pay for their tactical gear.

We would never see that. It would be absurd.

Teachers are professionals who deserve so much better than this. I hope whoever organized the event rethinks ever doing it again in the future and donates some extra cash to these teachers to apologize for the bad call.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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