Mental Health and Wellness
Coach Radigan creates a safe space for students in his classes
April 26, 2021
Walking into class, I was feeling down. Life was difficult. There had been lots of overwhelming factors I could not control. Hours of homework, two-and-a-half hour sports practice every day, work four days a week, drowning in scholarship applications, prepping for graduation, and the inevitable fear of having to leave my family for college. It all seemed to be too much, taking a toll on my mental health. It felt as though no one valued me for doing what I did every day.
I sat down at my desk with a few friends and waited for class to start as I was in a vivid haze thinking about my situation. I heard the door open and in walked my teacher, Mr. Radigan. I heard, “Good morning everyone! Identity statement let’s go…” and I glanced up at the board saying, “I am somebody, I am loved, I am valued, I am respected.” Radigan responds, “And don’t you forget it.” Instantly, I began to feel a little bit better. Like I had a bit more value than what I was feeling deep down. I realized somebody knew me, and my situation, and held value within me. It felt inspiring.
Mental health is a huge problem among our youth and the CDC says one in five children suffer from a mental illness.
Figuring out how to solve this issue is an additional problem. When does a kid know when to get help? How do they get help? How can adults support youth?
Coach Malach Radigan makes sure to create a safe space for students and their mental health. Especially through his Teen Health and Wellness class, Radigan advocates for the importance of being vulnerable about how you’re feeling and the value of each of his students.
“So I share with my kids the Teen Health and Wellness class is a journey and discovery of who you are? How did you get where you are today? Who do you want to become? And how do you get there?” Radigan said. “I really want my kids to walk out of that classroom a better version of themselves mentally and emotionally.”
Coach Radigan’s classroom contains a curriculum based on the value of a student and how they can tell their story.
“Our curriculum centers around that we work on the process of emotions, the process of storytelling, the process of memory imprints as far back as we can remember, and the process of how decision making affects us and our brains,” Coach Radigan said. “My biggest goal is for my students to delve deep into the processing information like how do they make decisions, what are their values, and explore that by doing a lot of reflective work.”
In order to get his students to be vulnerable and open up about their mental health, Coach Radigan creates a safe environment with a personal relation to his kids.
“I am very transparent on how I am as a teacher coming from a really broken background and coming from a lifestyle almost leading me into prison,” Coach Radigan said.
Senior Beth Wilkerson feels Radigan sharing his own life story is extremely impactful to the classroom setting.
“Sharing his story is proof that just because you’re on a bad path does not mean you can’t straighten yourself up and become truly happy with life.”
Coach Radigan relates to his students using his own personal trauma and mental struggles from his childhood and throughout his time growing up. Growing up with a father who was in and out of the picture, a mom working two jobs to keep things afloat and older brothers not being the best influences for him are all parts of his story he shares with his students in hopes to get them to see he has trauma just like them.
He hopes that they will begin to see how everyone has trauma and causes of negative mental health, and in hopes to see sharing their trauma can help improve their mental health the way it has for himself.
“They see a side of me that shows realness and struggle and how that happens,” Radigan said. “Typically with sharing my story, kids will either open up to me a lot more or they respect my story a lot and they choose to open up through their assignments.”
Senior Emily Crass felt she was able to share her own family experiences, with a very positive reaction from peers, after being able to hear Coach Radigan’s.
“Talking about my childhood and the stuff me and my family have been through, everyone in the class was super respectful,” Crass said. “Even after I got feedback from the students around me.”
In addition to sharing his own stories, Coach Radigan created a daily statement to make sure his kids feel loved the second they walk into his classroom.
“I always start with the identity statement,” Coach Radigan said. “The identity statement is ‘I am somebody, I am loved, I am valued, I am accepted.”
Senior Ella Harper agrees that Coach Radigan’s identity statement reassures her value as a student and in the classroom itself.
“The Identity statement is really nice. I love the energy it brings into the classroom,” Harper said. “Hearing everyone saying it and hearing myself say it makes me realize Radigan really cares about his students.”
Kids today feel endless amounts of stress from the nature of school and the future. Many students feel their value is based on how their achievement within the school and what their plan is past high school education, resulting in their feeling of a lesser value.
“Unfortunately, our education system puts value in kids based on their GPA and society puts value into you based on your job title,” Radigan said.
Radigan makes an active effort in making sure kids understand they are more than a grade on a paper or a job description.
“I really try to let kids know no matter what happens in the world I hope when you come into my classroom you feel one of the four things in the identity statement,” Radigan said.
Upon seeing his students become truly vulnerable in front of each other, Radigan has had his fair share of emotions.
“There have been times where I have been drawn to tears because of watching these true deeper friendships develop from these kids being true, real, deep, and bold,” Radigan said. “There is an overwhelming joy when I walk in and I am seeing the class interact without me having to prompt them.”
Harper and Crass use Radigan’s classroom as an opportunity for a mental health release.
“Everyone is so nice to each other and it is like a big group therapy session every day.” Harper said, “While sharing about my depression and explaining I have had to go to the hospital everyone was willing to be like ‘Hey I’m proud of you.’ And no one really understands how much those words mean.”
Crass agrees with Harper that Radigan’s class is set up to be a great mental health outlet for students with positive interaction.
“It is always safe. I always feel respected with what I share and open up about.” Crass said. “I always make an effort to be respectful when someone else is talking about what they have been through in class.”
Radigan’s biggest goal is to see his students feel they are able to be vulnerable about their mental health and trauma within his created safe space.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing breakthroughs for students and seeing a kid grow from the first week we did a project to the end really doing the work,” Radigan said. “Seeing kids having these relationships with me and their peers in this environment and being vulnerable is the most rewarding thing.”