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Award-winning alumna advocates for students’ mental health

Award-winning alumna advocates for students' mental health

Emma Carberry | June 3, 2019

While many of us may still be adjusting to writing the year “2019” on our documents, College of Education alumna Cheryl Kindred, ’94 is already having an incredibly successful year. In March, she was named Southside ISD’s Teacher of the Year and shortly thereafter won a KENS5 Excel Award accompanied by a $1000 check from Credit Human. In April, Kindred was named as a finalist for Trinity University’s Teaching Excellence Award and most recently, she was selected for the McNay Art Museum Docents’ Teacher Award. It is clear that Kindred is a shining exemplar of the teaching profession, but the road she travelled on her way to success wasn’t always so bright.

In the early 90s, Kindred was a single parent with lifelong aspirations to be a teacher. Although she and her daughter lived in San Antonio, Kindred knew Texas State was where she needed to be. Not only was Texas State the school to go to if you were going to be a teacher, she thought, but the Child Development Center on campus also gave her a convenient childcare option.

Cheryl Kindred, '94 receives Southside ISD's Teacher of the Year Award
Cheryl Kindred, '94 receives Southside ISD's Teacher of the Year Award

So, Kindred pursued her degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Education. She commuted daily from San Antonio and would spend the full day on campus, regardless of her class schedule. She had a concentration in art, and worked as a lab assistant for the ceramics instructor. She fondly remembers being tasked with firing student work in the kiln. As the mother to a young daughter, Kindred says she saw her studies through the lens of a parent, always applying what she learned to what she observed in her own child. She was approved to do her student teaching semester in San Antonio, which was a rarity at the time, and graduated in December of 1994.

However, after her student teaching semester, Kindred found herself overwhelmed with the prospect of being responsible for other people’s children. Although she believed that she was destined to be in the classroom, she decided to focus on her own family and took a job in underwriting at an insurance agency. Eventually, Kindred got married, had another child and began to feel more grounded. This new sense of security allowed her to pursue her passion and in October of 2000, she was hired at Heritage Elementary in Southside ISD, where she has worked ever since.

Kindred receives a $1000 check from Credit Human for winning the Excel Award
Kindred receives a $1000 check from Credit Human for winning the Excel Award

Although Kindred was finally doing what she loved, she was simultaneously suffering through an abusive marriage, which was damaging not only to her own mental health, but that of her children. After surviving a suicide attempt, Kindred made the decision to seek help and now she actively integrates mental health advocacy into her classroom.

Normally, Kindred says she would be embarrassed by the many recognitions she has received lately, but she sees the attention as an opportunity to break the stigma of mental illness and to advocate for her students’ mental health. According to Kindred, one in five children in Bexar County suffers from an emotional or mental affliction. “In a classroom of 20,” she says, “that’s at least four of my kids.” Kindred noted that by late April the Heritage Elementary school counselor had already conducted 20 risk assessments to address suicidal ideations in students as young as first grade.

While 20 children may have been the average class for Kindred when she started at Heritage Elementary as a 2nd grade teacher, three years ago she transitioned to teaching art for the campus, which serves grades one through five, meaning she interacts with around 470 students. Kindred makes it her mission to have an impact on all of these students. She serves as the campus Leader in Me facilitator and is a member of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team. PBIS is a framework that teaches trauma-informed practices to district employees. Through this program, she says, she hopes to help change the narrative in schools from “how could you do this?” to “why did you do this?” and “how can I help you?”. It is important to Kindred that these positive interventions come early for her students so that they can avoid negative mental health outcomes later in life.

“My classroom mission statement is ‘all students will try with a positive attitude,’” Kindred shares. She tells a story about how her students were eraser-obsessed when she first began teaching art. She could feel the anxiety her students had from striving for perfection with each assignment. So, she decided to introduce more projects with permanent markers and oil pastels – media that the children could not erase. Soon, she says, her students were learning not only to appreciate mistakes and differences, but also the importance of positive self-talk. One of her classroom rules, she says, is that her students must use kind words, not only with their classmates, but also with themselves.

Most notable in talking to Kindred is that she always brings the conversation back to her students. “We have great kids and we’re doing great things for them,” she notes. While she would rather talk about her students and her district than her recent recognitions, she is excited for the difference she can make with the $1000 check that came with the Excel Award. Kindred, who admits she spends much of her own money on classroom supplies for her students didn’t hesitate when making the decision to invest her award money into her students as well. Why? “They’re worth it and it makes a difference,” she says.