How Do We Support Mental Health in Kids When No One Else Is?

A Conversation With Our SEL Champion of the Month for December, Shannon Jephson-Hernandez. 

Hello, and welcome back to another SEL Champion of the Month! We are so excited to introduce Shannon Jephson-Hernandez as December’s champion. Shannon is a middle school teacher strongly passionate about showing the connection between neuroscience and mental health to de-stigmatize the topic and subtopics surrounding it. 

If watching or listening is more your speed,  see the entire recorded interview between our Head of Engagement, June Kissel, and Shannon Jephson-Hernandez below. If not, keep reading! 


Since she was young, Shannon has been interested in the brain. She can remember being interested in the connection between what’s happening in the brain and how we all act and react differently. She was also puzzled about the secrecy and stigmatization around mental health. Why isn’t it a more normalized conversation, and why are so many people hiding this part of themselves? This fascination fueled Shannon’s desire to become a teacher, but during her training, she was shocked at how little some educators knew about mental health. 

If these are the people teaching children, why isn’t there an emphasis on mental health and how to teach positive mental wellness? Fueled by this confusion, Shannon continued to study psychology in greater depth. 

After attending the HDIL (How Do I Learn) conference, part of the National Institute for Mental Health, a cohort of educators, researchers, and nurses coming together to learn about topics relating to mental health, Shannon felt her passion for this field become even more ignited. 

At this cohort, Shannon found a smaller group of people who, year after year, attended this event and eventually began holding institutes, inviting researchers in the mental health field and neuroscience to come in to speak and teach. Eventually, Shannon and her cohort realized they also wanted to do their own research. Here is where the doors began to open for Shannon. 

In the following years, Shannon worked with Dr. Eric Chandler and The University of Washington to learn alongside him about general neuroscience. She also went to the Seattle Children’s Hospital to learn there. Her work at these different institutions was always rooted in synthesizing information about mental health to bring back to her kids, students, and community and change how people think, learn, and teach. 

At her middle school, Shannon has had great success teaching mental health in the leadership class she began at the beginning of COVID-19. This leadership class has sent extremely powerful and positive ripples throughout the entire school and greater community through events, screenings of documentaries and mental health films, tips and tricks, and more. We’ve outlined a few examples below. 

After receiving a grant, Shannon’s leadership class decided to implement iMPACTFUL’s Creative Coping Toolkit: Angst Edition, which focuses on raising awareness and opening up the conversation about anxiety, helping people understand and manage their symptoms and learn when and how to ask for help. After students in the leadership class became “experts” through iMPACTFUL’s program, they showed the film to their entire community and hosted a panel discussion afterward, answering questions, creating discussions, and providing tools for their peers. This event led to a “Stop the Stigma” campaign hosted at their school. 

As for other events at the school, inspired by the implementation of mental health discussion, a “Power Within Day” took place alongside help from an outside program called Ignite. During this event, the leadership class taught students younger than them about topics that related to brain science and mental health and held an assembly with guest speakers. Once a month, students revisit the same people they taught the previous month and check in, continuing to teach about SEL topics and student success. This upcoming March, Shannon and her leadership students will host a “Stop the Stigma” initiative focused on the stigma associated with mental health and how they can all work together to stop it. 

Through teaching other, younger students about mental health and through changing the narrative of mental health, Shannon has seen a great sense of empowerment within all students, especially the student leadership individuals she works with most closely. Having service learning and community service directly built into the curriculum has changed how students learn and react. Through these types of events and classes, there’s an emphasis on students driving the work, which has empowered many others to feel compelled to change themselves and their communities for the better. 

We hope you have all enjoyed the fantastic things discussed in our SEL Champion of the Month interview. If you know of anyone in your community who could be a great SEL Champion of the Month, please nominate them here. We’ll see you next month!

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