The idea that one caring adult can change the life of a child is nothing new. Educators live that mantra every day. What may be unexpected is the level at which all adults in Spring Branch ISD (SBISD) are delivering on the idea.
When Treasure Forest Elementary Cafeteria Manager Desiree Gambrell challenged her team to come up with a new way to support students, Banana Notes was simple if the not obvious answer. Banana Notes require a few things: a banana, a non-toxic marker, a positive outlook, and one caring adult.
Like Gambrell’s team, most methods employed are simple and shaped by the desire to build empathy, understanding, and relationships.
Every week, Gambrell’s staff brainstorms messages for the bananas. Then, when the Tuesday shipment of fruit arrives, the team gathers to write these messages as part of food prep services. Bananas are one of the many items students can pick up as they travel the lunch line twice a day.
Each banana delivers an inspiring message like ‘Smile’ and ‘Dream big” to get kids to reflect on their day, their interactions, and their collective experience during the learning day.
From talking to Gambrell, it’s obvious both she and her staff are committed to serving more than just lunch to the school’s 570 students. “We see them twice a day,” says Gambrell. “It’s a great way to impact their learning experience positively. It makes us proud that we can help in our role. All of us can.”
That pride and belief that all adults can make a difference is something that unites staffers across the school district.
Meredith Wertz, SBISD’s Coordinator of System of Care and Crisis Team, sees Gambrell’s team as one example in a collective body of work focused on improving student mental health.
“Everyone plays a role in student mental health,” said Wertz. “It’s not just about educators. It’s about every member of our team seeing what’s happening with kids and coming together with the mindset of making a positive impact in a child’s life,” she said.
To sharped that mindset, Wertz and her team will train SBISD bus drivers in January on student mental health signs, symptoms, and responses.
Like the school cafeteria, the school bus is an ideal setting to develop an understanding of life outside of school and recognize warning signs in students that require additional support.
“It’s important to remember this is for all staff,” she said. “Our goal is to get everyone trained and equipped with the tools and skills they need to recognize and support student needs.”
Awareness, empathy, and talking are all part of the work. “It’s about noticing and seeing patterns in student behavior and caring about what going on with kids.”
That’s where staff members like bus drivers have an edge. They see kids every day from kindergarten to graduation. They often know siblings, socio-economic-situations, and other constants in a student’s day and life. This unique position is precisely why Wertz and her team are so enthusiastic about the January training.
“We want folks to talk to each other. When we talk about what’s going on with kids - when a bus driver calls a counselor - we’re doing the right work. This training will help us do that.”
Any SBISD school can request training on student mental health from Wertz and her team. The district offers a range of training supports for parents (Parent U events) including an upcoming session on trauma-informed care for children and adolescents.
- To register for one of SBISD’s Parent U events, click here.
- For additional information about SBISD’s Student Support Services, click here.