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Arkansas teacher, kindergarten students open up on mental health

Bridgette Caskey has been using her self-authored book as a tool to help her kindergarten classroom address their problems over the past 10-years.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Every single day is a learning experience for teachers, just like it is for their students. 

No matter how much you work on a lesson plan, something can develop in class and change everything from that point on.

That's true for Bridgette Caskey, a kindergarten teacher at Crestwood Elementary in North Little Rock.

Caskey reads a very special book called 'Leo and Luna's Lockbox' to her kindergartners.

“Leo.. you get out here this second yelled Leo's Mom," Caskey read from the book.

Leo and Luna's Lockbox is a story that she knows very well. That's because Caskey wrote it.

It's a book that had its beginnings 10 years ago during Bridgett's first year of teaching. Since that day, it's opened up plenty of opportunities for students to say what's on their minds.

"I was just teaching one day started to do a writing lesson and a student, I could tell something was bothering a student all day," Caskey said. "We do lesson plans I had already had my plans scheduled my copies made for my lesson, and it just, something went off in my head and I just made up a story."

The very first time that she read the story 10 years ago, she remembers telling her class, 'anything that might keep us from learning today, let's write it down and get it off our chest.'

Fast forward to 10 years later and this book based on that top of mind story has since been illustrated by UCA Art Major Maggie Bamburg who designed the story's characters as animals.

"I really wanted these books to show it could be anybody anyone or anything," Bamburg said.

That's the only change to a story that continues to capture kids' imaginations. Since that first day in 2012, the conversations are still enriching the lives of the students in the classroom.

From 2012 to 2022, Caksey has been standing in the classroom, prompting students to "think about one thing that really bothers you."

Whatever that happens to be, the kids then write it down.

Many of the children are timid and don't want to tell what they've written down. They're sometimes afraid to tell an adult or even a friend but a child will write it down if they know no one is going to see it.

After writing down their problems, they put their names on the paper and fold it several times

And true to the book-- the students' worries are repeatedly sealed.

It's a simple exercise but something as simple as getting that off their chest allows them to open up and take in more.

They're responses are safe with their instructor, as Caskey is the only one who ever checks their answers. Sometimes, that's even meant a rescue for the students.

"Over the last 9 years now I've placed four children in foster care homes," Caskey said.

One of those children is older now and left Caskey a Facebook message, letting her know how they've been.

"She's placed in a happy home now and doing great, has all A's in school. She just wanted to write me and say 'thank you because I would've not gotten help otherwise,'" Caskey said.

What started off a simple exercise with 'Leo and Luna's Lockbox' is serving as an example of the power a story can have in producing a safer life, safer classroom and better teacher for students.

"You know, they can't learn if they've got things that bother them. I have to be able to reach the whole child," Caskey said.

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