With rising awareness of the mental health challenges many young people face, what better place to focus our efforts as a community than in the classroom, where students spend most of their day? With this in mind, Menachem Education Foundation (MEF) is currently working hard to meet the urgent need for Chabad educators to know how to assist students struggling with mental health. Rabbi Zalman Shneur, MEF founder and director, says that MEF is going ahead of the curve, and finding tools to guide Mechanchim(os) in the emotional wellbeing of their students. 

MEF connected with Mrs. Gitty Francis LMSW, Shlucha to Houston, TX and national instructor in Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid, to run the nationally certified Youth Mental Health First Aid course for Chabad educators. With the help of the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative, who sponsor top programs for Jewish Teen engagement, MEF was able to immediately launch the program for Mechanchos of girls ages 12-18.

Mrs. Rivka Fishman, a veteran educator in Torah Day School of Houston, TX, was instrumental in introducing MEF to Mrs. Francis for guidance in mental health programming. After taking the course, she expressed, “It was so great to learn important skills to help our students during tough times, as well as systems to follow during mental health challenges.” 

Course enrollment filled to capacity within hours of its announcement, showing how much Chabad educators prioritize the mental health of their students. MEF immediately scheduled a second women’s cohort, which also sold out right away, as well as a parallel training for Mechanchim. To help support the large number of registrants, Mrs. Francis co-presented with Aviva Levine-Jacobs and Janet Pozmantier. Rabbi Meir Mark, Coordinator for Ohel’s School Based Mental Health Services, addressed the men. All together 90 educators signed up for the course. 

 In 8 hours of coursework, divided into two live webinars and independent study, participants learned how to be the first responders in a mental health crises, and to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health distress and substance abuse in their students. Those who successfully completed the course received a nationally recognized certification in Youth Mental Health First Aid. 

“The practical examples and encouragement made the course informative and engaging,” said Bnos Menachem High School teacher, Mrs. Yedida Wolfe

Another teacher shared how she put what she learned into action immediately, when she used the right questions to approach an emotionally struggling student, and began the process of getting her the help she needs.  

The course was “wonderful and very informative,” said Rabbi Levi Kramer, of Ohr Elchanan Mesivta in Los Angeles, CA, sharing his feedback that “this course should be required for all teachers.”

The Menachem Education Foundation is committed to bringing mental health awareness to Chabad schools in other ways as well. Together with Mrs. Dena Gorkin of Bnos Chomesh Academy, MEF facilitated the building of a Crisis Intervention Protocol for schools to follow in case of a mental health emergency, G-d forbid. More importantly, says Rabbi Shneur, it is necessary to focus on long term projects to uproot these challenges, which is where MEF spends a lot of energy and resources right now, too. The new “Teach and Reach” program trains Mechanchos to meet middle and high school students’ social-emotional needs. At the elementary school level, Mrs. Henny Bartfield is currently leading a new groundbreaking curriculum initiative for social-emotional learning, being piloted in four schools around the country. 

“The Mental Health First Aid course shows that when the right people come together at the right time, amazing things happen,” reflects Mrs. Chanah Rose, MEF’s Educational Director. “The response to this course was overwhelming and inspiring, and shows that our work has just begun.”

To sign up for additional cohorts of Youth Mental Health First Aid, visit mymef.org/events.