Pamela Cantor MD


ONE OF THE CRAZIEST THINGS to me is the idea that the education system we have today was designed 100 years ago. That system thought a child’s brain was an empty vessel. Put children in a classroom, pour knowledge into them, and get them to memorize that knowledge. Some would, some wouldn’t. Then test them on that knowledge and sort them into who would be worthy of going on to college and some of the best jobs and who would not.

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If we turn schools into relationally rich communities where kids can restore their belief in the future and their belief in themselves, we are going to see a dramatic reduction in mental health symptoms.”

What we now know is that the human brain is malleable to experience and that context – the relationships, experiences, and environments in a child’s life – are the things that fuel and grow the learning brain. Not just having kids sit in a classroom passively, but having them apply knowledge in relevant and meaningful ways by doing, creating, and building things with their peers and with the support of adults they know and trust.

On top of that, today we know that no one learns the same way, so we can’t have a one-size-fits-all design. The “bell curve” on which our education system was designed is a statistical model that has been proven wrong over and over again. (See Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.) We’re never going to see the top of a child’s developmental range unless we have some capacity to personalize learning for each and every child and provide them with experiences that show them what they are capable of.

Dr. Zachary Hermes


WE CAN’T BE HELD BACK by the traditional separation of pediatrics and education spaces if we want to find the most effective and impactful approaches. Behavioral health and social emotional learning are truly two sides of the same coin, and formulate the core to driving academic achievement as well as a fulfilling life.

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It’s time for us to reimagine what this learning environment looks like. Not to tinker, not to modify, but to be willing to rethink the DNA of how we organize our schools.”

There’s a ton of data that tells us students with mental health or behavioral health issues perform much worse academically and are far more likely to face disciplinary action. But these challenges are not an inevitability. They are a response to the environment and contexts that students find themselves in. It’s time that we not only recognize the environment as a risk factor but think about it as a key component of nurturing.

Given that school is often the place that a student spends the most time, we have a profound opportunity to intervene and promote healthy skills and mindsets. The mind-body connection is more apparent, and evidence-based, than ever. We know that students are hurting, and our schools need to acknowledge and honor the trauma they’re trying to process, navigate, and overcome. Many communities, including those most vulnerable, have faced a generational trauma.

David Spicer

THROUGHOUT COVID, especially that first year, students really suffered from isolation. I’ve heard from students who, outside of Zoom classes, wouldn’t speak to anyone for an entire day in their physical space. That really takes a toll on students. Even on the tail end of the pandemic, we’re still seeing that increased need for mental health support.

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Any space where there’s decision-making, there should also be a student.”

Students who are most disconnected are often students of color. Having culturally competent clinicians is so important, but really lacking right now. I’m a Mexican American student. What does it mean for a student like me when I don’t see a clinician who’s Latinx? Identity is such a core part of students’ lives—it drives a lot of how they view the world. It really does create a barrier to access when they’re not able to find a clinician.

There’s a healthcare center here in Boston that specializes in LGBTQ+ care. So many students told me that they were on a three- to six-month waiting list. When you think about it, that’s an entire semester of issues that a student has to put on pause to seek help.

Emiliano Juarez

MARCH 13, 2020 was the last day of school for everybody, in person at least. After COVID, we split apart in eighth grade. People just didn’t connect with each other. I drifted away from all of my friends. I had zero interactions with them. Freshman year, I was really lost—it was hard for me coming back into high school. I knew a couple people, but it was rough. We weren’t able to do clubs in person, and I wasn’t able to connect with the teachers well, so freshman year I had limited opportunities to do the extracurriculars that I enjoyed.

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As president of the mariachi club, I want to create something that students will enjoy and where they feel welcome.”

I would say I missed practicing with the mariachi club most. Our official name is Mariachi Juvenil Los Tigres. We met every Tuesday after school on Zoom, but it was so weird and hard because people couldn’t really connect with each other. After we went back to in-person school in late spring, it was basically time to say goodbye.

Anna María Chávez


I GREW UP in a small farm town called Eloy, Arizona, which I thought was the center of the universe. It was 4,000 people—beautiful, very rural. My mom was one of the first Latinas in Arizona to be elected to the school board. People were always sitting around our kitchen table as my mom tried to help solve issues in our community. What she taught me was that people come to you to be heard, not to be told. Part of being a leader is doing more listening than talking.

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If you can speak three languages, you can learn from so many different people. It opens your eyes to different experiences in life.”

When I became a civil rights attorney, I wanted to help kids like me who had grown up in a rural community, from what people said was “a disadvantaged background.” But I never felt disadvantaged. I wanted to take the stigma away. I wanted to ensure children could live the life they wanted to live, without all the labels.

The face of our country is changing. In the 2020 U.S. Census, one of the largest demographic swings reported was individuals checking more than one race box. My focus now is trying to reach the diverse population of kids entering schools in a format they can understand and relate to.


Why do you work on education issues?

“Learning has been one of the most significant things in my life. It began with my mother—an educator—who was adamant about academic excellence. She taught me that learning is an ongoing process and forever evolving. For me, it’s been so empowering and has given me so much value.”

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Mental health support for our kids is essential. This starts by listening – taking in what they’ve experienced and what’s challenged them – and making decisions from there.”

The impact of COVID-19 and the racial justice awakening after the murder of George Floyd forever changed our world. How do schools need to adapt to this new reality?

“Mental health support for our kids is essential. This starts by listening— taking in what they’ve experienced and what’s challenged them—and making decisions from there. We want our kids to not only be great in academics, but they also have to be emotionally healthy.”

What gives you hope for the future?

“I’m very hopeful because this generation of children is brilliant and has lots to say. I come across young people with such capacity and ability to think outside the box. Through our work, we are going to feed and water those seeds and allow young people to have the best opportunities. That gives me a lot of hope.”

Tim Shriver


WE BUILT SCHOOLS with an institutional structure that’s supposed to help children grow and develop, but that almost never uses the word love. It almost never has dedicated attention to the practice of compassion. It almost never speaks the language of healing, of teaching meaning, of removing the blinders of bias.

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Kids show up with these big eyes saying, does anyone see me? Do I matter? What’s my part? How do I make a difference? That’s in the eyes of a seven-year-old, a nine-year-old and, I dare say, a 17-year-old, too. They’re all showing up every day. And when those eyes never meet a relationship infused with love, never feel trust, never find their purpose, they start to fall. And before you know it, half of our kids in high school have their heads on their desks. It’s a reaction to a world in which they don’t see themselves and aren’t learning what matters most.

Social emotional learning is, if I can put it simply, to balance the teaching of head with the teaching of heart.”

Sharon McMahon

You’re a former high school history teacher with an Instagram account @SharonSaysSo that has 639,000 followers. Who knew non-partisan civics lessons could be so viral?

“I won’t bore you with my life story, but the short version is that right before the 2020 election, I started seeing so much misinformation circulating on social media. The big catalyst—where I was like, something must be done—was on a friend’s Facebook page. Somebody said something that was just patently false, and I was like, that is not what the Constitution says at all. That was why I started making videos and using my Instagram platform to explain how the government works.”

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How can educators help kids get better at spotting misinformation?

“As Gen Z likes to call it, you need to bring receipts. And what I mean by that is proof. I’m always looking for primary sources—the actual source of the data, who originated this, where did this come from? Like, what do I see on Snapchat? Where’s that person coming from, and how does that lens impact what they’re talking about or reporting? Critically analyzing your source materials is going to be even more important moving forward.”

We have to care about the students, absolutely, but we also must care about the teachers.”

Has this year changed the way you see the teaching profession?

“What a challenging year, and major hats off to all of the teachers who literally invented a new form of education with no runway. Talk about building the plane while you’re flying it, also, while everyone’s screaming at you that you’re doing it wrong. Sounds fun, right? We have to care about the students, absolutely, but we also must care about the teachers. We have to treat teachers like they’re important and not expendable, act like their job satisfaction matters to us, act like they are valued partners in this educational experience.”

Ze Min Xiao

Ze Min Xiao

HOW DO WE make sure that families have a seat at the table, and that their participation is not just a one-time thing? We call them ‘participatory architects.’ If we are building a house, we want to make sure that the people who live in the house have a say in how the house is designed.

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A sense of belonging means feeling like you’re accepted, but also that you can contribute.”

Why don’t families participate in PTAs? Why are they not involved? A lot of it is fear. The fear of not being able to speak the language. The fear of being undocumented. Schools are the first trusted space of immigrant families. They’re a starting point to build relationships with others in the community and a space where individuals can be seen. Our education structure needs to find ways to serve the entire family, not just the students. First and foremost, schools need to make sure they build relationships with parents and create an environment where everyone feels like they belong.

Eddie Koen


THERE ARE NO silver bullets in education. You’ve got to get the hammer on a lot of things at one time to really see long-term, transformational change.

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There’s an interesting political will now that did not exist three or four years ago. We have a real opportunity to integrate mental health and wraparound social services in schools, really integrating curriculum and student time with social services and parents. We just can’t ignore that anymore. It’s impossible to expect students to perform when lights are cut out at home, or violence is happening. Really, it’s like we need a new idea: What are the social determinants of education? And how do we radically integrate them?

I think we should re-imagine education by asking how and who should educate us. It’s not so much about what we teach—it’s every mechanism and who is getting to educate our students that we should rethink.”

Within those programs and initiatives, there’s incredible power. I’ve learned this in my own life. It’s the personal touch. You never know when the opportunity for transformation can open up with a student or a teacher. The more you have that continuous, intrusive contact, it can happen. I’m optimistic that it will happen if we’re really intentional about building relationships.

Drew Furedi


OUR MIDDLE SCHOOL is the receiving school for the only family homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles. How do you prioritize eighth grade math standards, when that eighth grader is worried about where they’re sleeping at night? That’s difficult on so many levels for everybody in that equation—for the teacher, the social worker, the principal, for the mom, and for the kid, right? What I appreciate about going back in now is that there is broader education community language around social, emotional wellness, and mental health that makes it possible for that eighth grader to learn their math standards while feeling safe and cared for, and making sure the other pieces of their world are going to be put back together the right way.

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We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other. In every one of our centers or schools, with our six-week-old children or our 24-year-olds, we have full-time case managers looking at the comprehensive needs of the child and the family.

We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other.”

Maria Hinojosa


THIS NOTION OF how we use this moment to transform education is something I’ve been thinking about for over a year. In the middle of teaching at Barnard College, my alma mater, not only did I get sick with COVID-19, but I had to adjust to teaching my students on a computer when my teaching is about creating a safe space in the physical classroom.

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This is a difficult thing to achieve in the United States when there is so much division fomented on racial hate. One of the things this country has yet to do in its teaching is to acknowledge our complicated history.

Students have experienced trauma, separation, fear, and hunger as a result of this pandemic. I had students in an Ivy League setting whose families were hungry. These are first generation Mexican undocumented students or children of undocumented food workers from the Bronx and Queens who lost their jobs and suddenly there was no food in the home.

Our children are looking to us, and we need to show them that we are survivors, and we are vulnerable too.”