Hearing Mental Health Issues

Star athletes and students in our classrooms experience the connection between physical health and mental health within the context of high performance expectations; transgender rights of students to use the bathroom of their gender identity and to participate in sports teams; and quandaries about learning, isolation from friends and covid-19 restrictions.
Additional Disciplines 
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Awareness of the relation of physical health and mental health was heightened in summer 2021 when several star athletes made public their personal struggles. Students will read about Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Coco Gauff. 


Health and legal issues are examined through the perspective of the rights of transgender students. When the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia high school student when the lawsuit began, the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit stood. Transgender students have the right to use the school bathrooms of their gender identity.


Transgender rights in women’s sports merged into the health and politics arenas. As reported in The Washington Post, “President Biden on his first day in office signed an executive order expanding protections for transgender students.” This was followed by other actions that supported transgender rights, including the Senate confirming the first openly transgender federal official, Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of health.


In September French President Emmanuel Macron announced several measures during a conference with professionals who work in the health sector. As The Post reported, he “described a spike in the number of children seeking psychological treatment and in attempted suicides, notably among teenagers. About 20% of French people suffer from depression,” he said. “The French government announced free therapy sessions for children and young people earlier this year, and pledged to extend that to everyone who has a doctor’s prescription. Psychiatric treatment is already largely reimbursed by the state.”


In the U.S. “[e]xperts and advocates have warned for months of a simmering mental health crisis as students across the nation have struggled with depression, anxiety, isolation, family hardships, sick relatives and plunging grades since schools closed in March 2020,” wrote Post education reporter Donna St. George.


October is designated the month for global education and advocacy as World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 in more than 150 countries.


We are hearing mental health issues. What are the responses?



October 2021

Transgender Guidelines for Schools
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Spotlight Mental Health

Character Education, Health, Journalism, Physical Education, Psychology, Reading


Three successful, young female athletes all addressed the need for greater understanding of mental health issues — from their own experience. Teachers are encouraged to have students read all three articles in order: “What Naomi Osaka’s silence tells us,” “Recognizing the greatness in Biles’s decision to step back,” and “Gauff has a platform and plans to use it.” The writers make reference to the other athletes; students will have a better understanding of the connection being made by having read the previous article.


Three Professional Athletes | Three Perspectives on Mental Health is included to develop close reading skills and to aid discussion of the pieces.


In addition to the article by Allyssa Rosenberg, teachers may have students read or listen to Barry Svrluga’s “Competitor No. 392 won a bronze medal on beam. Simone Biles won the Tokyo Olympics.”  This provides a closing to Biles’ Olympic experience, putting her mental health into perspective, and an excellent example of use of numbers and other techniques of a writer. [Challenged readers should find hearing the story helpful as the read along.]


Whether reading Svrluga’s opinion piece or not, students could discuss these questions:

• “Somewhere in the buildup to Tokyo, Biles’s mind lost its very close relationship with her body. This wasn’t “poor performance.” It was an inability to perform. Is that weakness? Or is it an honest assessment by an athlete who knows herself, who understands when she’s right or she’s not?”

What should we expect of our athletes?

Mental Health
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Take a Mental Health Day?

Government, Health

Ask your students what they think of taking a mental health day. When would they want such a day off from school?


Read Petula Dvorak’s column, “Kids get need for mental health days.” Teacher may discuss the article before giving Closer Read | Columnist Petula Dvorak to students. What do students discover in reading the column a second time and answering the questions?


This activity could be used to give suggestions for content of a personal essay or column. Students could write on any topic of their choice. It might also be used to prepare students to write a proposal.


As a news article companion to the column, students could read “Should mental health be a valid reason for missing school? Many say yes.” What additional information does The Post’s education reporter Donna St. George give?



What Difference Does Word Choice Make?

Character Education, English, Health, Journalism

When the Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools board voted to allow adding mental health to the list of valid reasons to miss school, they chose student “well-being” as a reason for an excused absence. Why did they not use “mental health” or “mental illness”?


Insensitive and hateful language can be destructive. In the In the Know section of this curriculum guide an extensive list of gender-related terms and definitions is included to give teachers and students the appropriate terms to explain this area of student health and to use them.


Teachers may also have students read “How to parent in our new, awkward age of pronouns.” What do they think of the suggestions made by Tracy Moore? What other approaches do they think would be helpful?


Write a Proposal

Civics, English, Health, Social Studies

My Proposal For a Healthier Me gives students steps to take in planning and writing a proposal. To tie in with the Coco Gauff article and her use of journaling, teachers could ask students to begin with writing a journal entry/personal reflection on one of these topics:

• What makes a person healthy?

• Mental health concerns among my friends

• Social media and mental health concerns

• The health issue on which my school should focus

• When you hear the phrase “take care of your mental health,” what comes to your mind?


If teachers have developed writing groups and built trust in sharing, they could have students share the first draft of their proposals. Talk about ideas and the order these ideas are presented, offer suggestions and resources to strengthen the content. Grammar, punctuation and spelling can be a focus of the next draft.


What About Facebook and Mental Health?

Character Education, Health, Technology, U.S. Government

Teachers may ask students about the amount of time they spend each day, over the weekend or each week using social media. Students might work with you to write additional survey questions to learn about the use of social media (favorite platforms), content most often viewed and impact of influencers (most popular).


Studies and allegations both say that Instagram and other social media is harmful to the mental health of some users, especially teenage girls. Have students do an e-Replica search for article on Instagram and its potential for toxicity.

Read About Speaking Out



What Does Gavin Say?

Character education, English, Psychology, U.S. Government

Teachers may decide that having the correct terms to use when studying gender issues would be a good starting point. Give students Know the Terms. Students might work in pairs or teams to complete the assignment that requires that they find reliable sources to define the terms. Teachers will find definitions and links in the In the Know section of this online guide.


Two opinion pieces — a Post editorial, “An appeals court ruling is an important victory for Gavin Grimm and other transgender students” and a guest commentary, “My fight for rights as a trans kid shouldn’t have been so hard” — give perspectives on the Supreme Court’s decision. Ask students to summarize the result of court action. What do students think of the decision? Compare and contrast the main points made by both.


If teachers have not reviewed gender-related terms with their students, you may wish to review those found in these two pieces before students read and discuss them. Another approach would be to ask students to make a list of terms for which they are not sure of definition. Have them work in small groups to define them and clarify meaning.


At the end of Gavin’s personal essay/guest commentary, teachers will find the link to a Post podcast of Gavin with James Hohmann: Gavin Grimm on a watershed moment in the fight for transgender rights.



What’s Next?

Character Education, Psychology, Social Studies, U.S. History, U.S. Government

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights states that “OCR enforces civil rights laws to protect all students from unlawful discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. This includes students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, intersex, nonbinary, and individuals who identify their sexual orientation or gender identity in other ways (LGBTQI+).


In response to the OCR and to the Supreme Court decision not to hear Grimm’s case, many school boards have reaffirmed or written new guidelines for their schools. Read and discuss “New guidelines bolster transgender student rights.” This article focuses on Loudoun (Va.) County School Board’s action on allowing transgender students “access to school facilities and groups, such as sports teams, that match their gender identities.”


For an overview of responses to transgender students across the U.S., read and discuss “For trans students, fight is far from over.”


Write an Opinion Essay

English, Journalism, Social Studies, U.S. History

What is an editorial for print journalists is a guest commentary for broadcast journalists and a persuasive essay for English class. Brainstorming and drafting all follow similar steps. Give students What Is Your Informed Opinion?


Teachers might take a potential topic and work through the process with students using it. For example, you might use one of these topics:

• Gender-neutral restrooms are/are not the answer. They are considered offensive designations because they are generally side-by-side with mens and womens restrooms. It leads transgenders to believe they are being discriminated against because they feel they are being asked to use a separate restroom than the one they believe they belong in.


• The politicization of gender issues. As stated in a Post editorial: “It’s sad that just treating all children with respect has become a political issue.” 


• “Bills to ban transgender kids from sports try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist

by Megan Rapinoe, a womens soccer champion and ambassador for Athlete Ally

“I want the trans youth in our country to know they are not alone. Women’s organizations, including the Women’s Sports Foundation, National Women’s Law Center and Gender Justice, along with sports icons including Billie Jean King and Candace Parker, agree that transgender girls and women belong in sports and should be able to participate alongside other girls and women. Discrimination hurts everyone. We’re stronger as teams, and as a country, when all people who love sports have a chance to have their lives changed for the better, just like I did.”


• Post Monkey Cage analysis: States are still trying to ban trans youths from sports. Here’s what you need to know.

So far in 2021, state legislators have proposed 170 bills targeting trans children. 

• Biden said he’ll work to advance transgender rights. Here are 4 things to know.

What is the state of transgender rights and protections in the U.S. and internationally?



Use an Alternative Student Speech Rights Topic

Character Education, Debate, Journalism, Psychology, U.S. Government

Teachers may decide that reviewing and discussing the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case involving transgender student use of school bathrooms is not appropriate for their students. We offer this YOU and YOUR RIGHTS alternative.


Ask the question, should school administrators and teachers have the right to tell students what they may and may not wear at school? Should school officials send students home to change their clothes or suspend them for refusing not to take off the offending garment or accessory?


After discussion, read The Post editorial, “A fine line on student free speech” that addressed restricting student dress. Although a hot topic in 2015 at a Virginia school, it is still a pertinent topic. Christiansburg High School suspended students in 2015 for wearing Confederate battle flag on shirts, belt buckles and jewelry.


The relevant Supreme Court case involving student freedom of speech (as expressed wearing arm bands) is Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. What were the circumstances? What did the Supreme Court decide?


After understanding the Court decision in Tinker, discuss how is applies to Christiansburg High School.

• What is the school board position?

• What is The Post’s position on the school’s dress code?

• What do students think about dress codes and what dress or accessory might be considered disruptive in your school?


Students could be asked to examine their school’s dress code. Does it need updating?


Will You Be Heard?

U.S. Government

Gavin Grimm’s legal journey is a case study in how individuals can have their grievances heard and when they do not believe they have received a fair judgment may seek an appeal.


After reading about Grimm’s case, give students A Decision May Take Years. Ask them to read through the steps and then apply them to his case.

FindLaw.com states: It is important to note up front that not just any case can be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. A case must involve an issue of federal law or otherwise fall within the jurisdiction of federal courts.  A case that involves only an issue of state law or parties within a state will likely stay within the state court system where that state's supreme court would be the last step.


Teachers who want to delve deeper into judicial precedents and the influence of the Supreme Court’s decisions on future cases, review the opinion piece by Ruth Marcus, “Why a case about jury verdicts could spell trouble for Roe v. Wade.”




Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange

Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Donna McCullough

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In The Know 


Gender  Male or female; also, four genders: masculine, feminine, neuter and common. See gender assignment.
Chosen or preferred pronoun The pronoun (he/she/they/ve/zie, for example) the individual prefers for personal reference. People who are limited by languages without gender neutral pronouns have attempted to create them, in the interest of greater equality. 
Cisgender Having or relating to a gender identity that corresponds to the culturally determined gender roles for one’s birth sex (i.e., the biological sex one was born with). 
Gender assignment     Classification of an infant at birth as either male or female. Children born with ambiguous genitalia are usually assigned a gender by parents or physicians.
Gender identity One’s self-identification as male or female. Although the dominant approach in psychology for many years had been to regard gender identity as residing in individuals, the important influence of societal structures, cultural expectations, and personal interactions in its development is now recognized as well. 
Non-binary     Any gender that is not strictly man or woman all the time. Nonbinary identity may include being a gender that is somewhere on the spectrum between masculinity and femininity, being a neutral gender or a gender separate from masculinity and femininity, being genderless, having multiple genders, having a gender that changes over time, and more.
Transgender Having or relating to a gender identity that differs from the culturally determined gender roles for one’s birth sex (i.e., the biological sex one was born with) or for one’s sex as surgically assigned at birth.  
Uni-sex bathroom    Unisex public toilets, also called gender-inclusive, gender-neutral and mixed-sex or all-gender toilets, bathrooms or restrooms, or just toilets, refers to public toilets that are not separated by gender or sex.  


Appeal  A request to a supervisory court, usually composed of a panel of judges, to overturn the legal ruling of a lower court.
Court costs    The expenses of prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, other than the attorney fees. An amount of money may be awarded to the successful party (and may be recoverable from the losing party) as reimbursement for court costs.
Hear an appeal     Formal proceeding (generally less formal than a trial) with definite issues of law or of fact to be heard. Hearings are used by courts and also by legislative and administrative agencies.
Injunction  Court order which forbids or requires a party to the case to do some act
School Board guidelines   General rules, principles, recommendations; unlike rules that are binding orders or enforced by law. State boards of education provide guidelines and model policies to aid local school boards
Standing  The legal right to bring a lawsuit. Only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.
U.S. Courts of Appeals    The U.S. federal judicial system, 94 district courts are organized into 12 circuits or regions. Each circuit has its own Court of Appeals. There is also the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. 
U.S. Supreme Court    One of the three co-equal branches of U.S. government; last appeals are heard by the justices. Read the Court as an Institution.  



Advocate Person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy; one who pleads the case of another in a court or defends a cause or way of doing something
Carceral Relating to or suggesting a prison or jail
Curtail  Reduce in extent or quantity; impose a restriction
Harassment  Intimidation, aggressive pressure; unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, gender identity or preganancy, national origin, age, disability or genetic information 

Cruel and bitter criticism, full of bitterness and hate that causes distress and pain


Sources: Glossary of the American Psychological Association, American Bar Association, University of Milwaukee LGBTQ+ Resource Center, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.


Mental and Emotional Health

  1. Health Promotion. By Grade 8, students should be able to define stress, anxiety and depression. Identify the signs, symptoms and potential effects of each on the individual (e.g., suicidal thoughts, self-harm and overeating). 6-

4. Communication. Describe how sharing or post- ing information electronically about self or others on social media sites (e.g., texting, phone, email, and group-chats) can negatively im- pact mental and emotional health. 6-

Social Studies. Historical Research, Evidence and Point of View

4. Students construct and test hypotheses; collect, evaluate, and employ information from multiple primary and secondary sources; and apply it in oral and written presentations



Academic Content Standards may be found at http://osse.dc.gov/service/dc-educational-standards.

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Health. Students will analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors. (Standard 2. National Health Education Standards)

2.12.4  Evaluate how the school and community can affect personal health practice and behaviors

2.12.5  Evaluate the effect of media on personal and family health. Grades 9-12


Health. Students will demonstrate the ability to access valid information, products, and services to enhance health. (Standard 3. National Health Education Standards)


Health. Students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health. (Standard 8. National Health Education Standard)

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at https://mdk12.msde.maryland.gov/INSTRUCTION/curriculum/ela/SiteAssets/Ho...

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Health. 8.1. Essential Health Concepts.

p. Describe characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, including establishing and communicating boundaries.


Health. 8.2 Healthy Decisions. Mental Wellness/Social and Emotional Skills.

1. Explain why mental health issues such as self-harm behaviors, depression, and suicide ideation cannot be managed independently and require support/assistance.
4. Explain how negative perceptions of mental health promote a stigma about mental illnesses and emotional challenges.


English. The student will read, interpret, analyze, and evaluate nonfiction texts.

a)   Analyze text features and organizational patterns to evaluate the meaning of texts.

b)   Recognize an author’s intended audience and purpose for writing.

c)   Skim materials to develop an overview and locate information.

d)   Compare and contrast informational texts for intent and content.

e)   Interpret and use data and information in maps, charts, graphs, timelines, tables, and diagrams.

f)   Draw conclusions and make inferences on explicit and implied information using textual support as evidence.

g)   Analyze and synthesize information in order to solve problems, answer questions, and generate new knowledge.

h)   Analyze ideas within and between selections providing textual evidence.

i)    Summarize, paraphrase, and synthesize ideas, while maintaining meaning and a logical sequence of events, within and between texts.  (10.5)


Academic Content Standards may be found at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml.

Common Core Standards 

Language. L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Reading: Informational Text. Grade 7. 9. Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.

Reading: Informational Text. Grade 8. 1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Reading: Informational Text. Grade 8. 5. Analyze in detail the structure of a specific paragraph in a text, including the role of particular sentences in developing and refining a key concept.


Common Core standards may be found at www.corestandards.org.