mandy-currie.jpg
WE Teacher Mandy Currier

To help children deal with trauma, this educator draws lessons from her own experiences

Amid increased academic demands, elementary school teacher Mandy Currier makes time for relationship building to foster resilience in students.

mandy-currie.jpg
WE Teacher Mandy Currier

To help children deal with trauma, this educator draws lessons from her own experiences

Amid increased academic demands, elementary school teacher Mandy Currier makes time for relationship building to foster resilience in students.

By Jesse Mintz

As for what this looks like in practice, a glance at Currier’s playbook suggests it begins with understanding where students are coming from. In her case, that empathy is rooted in personal trauma.

There are barely enough minutes in the day to get through Mandy Currier’s classroom agenda. She’s been teaching second grade at J.L. Mudd Elementary for nine years, and every year the demands increase. More tests, more academic expectations, more subjects—and more students who’ve experienced trauma.

With rates of trauma and mental health issues climbing in her classroom, she’s relying more and more on out-of-pocket purchases to help create a positive environment that will motivate students. Looking for support, Currier found WE Schools and its WE Teachers award. Paired with a $500 prize from Walgreens to help teachers with the cost of classroom resources, winning the honor came as a lifeline for Currier.

To get students excited about school, the educator is using her prize money for decorations to liven up the classroom, mints and gum to keep students happy during tests, and little toys for her monthly reward system. She credits little heartfelt touches like these with encouraging and engaging students. “They have trauma at home, they’re struggling in class and I’m just trying to get them to love learning; to love coming to school.”

Nurturing students coping with trauma is a focus for Currier, who believes a customized curriculum can fill in gaps created by life circumstances. “There is a time crunch across the board, with no space for stories or relationships, no space to check in with how they’re doing,” she explains of hectic classroom dynamics. Still, she makes time every week to read to her students, using lessons in literacy to forge classroom bonds and foster resilience. Students gather on the carpet while she sits on top of a desk and, with lights dimmed and calm music playing in the background, the teacher reads a favorite of hers, Wonder.

For Currier, the sense of closeness this classroom ritual creates is as valuable as any textbook learning. “On the hierarchy of needs, if they don’t feel emotionally regulated then nothing else is going to matter,” she affirms. “In my class, there’s foster kids, students on free and reduced lunches, sad stories and pain—the need has only increased.”

That upswing of trauma is true not just in Currier’s O’Fallon, Missouri, classroom, but in schools across America. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly half of students have gone through at least one type of serious trauma, from neglect and domestic violence to a parent’s death or experiencing racism. Those experiences can impact how students learn, behave and form relationships. This reality is leading educators across the country to a new, trauma-informed approach to teaching, to ensure their students can thrive in the classroom. This approach forms the core of WE Teachers, the program behind Currier’s award. Through resources provided by WE Teachers, educators like Currier are given professional development tools to help them achieve trauma-informed classrooms.

As for what this looks like in practice, a glance at Currier’s playbook suggests it begins with understanding where students are coming from. In her case, that empathy is rooted in personal trauma.

Describing her childhood as “rocky,” one of her early memories is of flashing red and blue police lights outside her home, while she stayed at a neighbors. At school, a brave face kept questions away—when really, it shouldn’t have. “I never had a teacher that was there for me, that I felt comfortable talking to,” she recalls. “I felt alone, and I never wanted another kid to feel that way.”

To make sure they don’t, Currier shares her feelings regularly in class. She’s open about her past and the challenges she’s faced. She talks about her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and experiences with mental health. “Everybody struggles. I say that 10 times a day in class.” Open communication is her way of instilling lessons in well-being; by talking freely, students going through difficult times see they can be open, too, and that there are people who will listen and help.

That brings us back to Currier’s preferred classroom reading, Wonder. The powerful and emotional story of a 10-year-old’s evolving sense of self worth in a harsh world, sharing this tale with students isn’t just a reading exercise, it’s therapeutic. To complement her ritual readings, she has her students write reflections on inspiring moments from the story that carry lessons applicable to their own lives. Then, Currier—being the sort of all-star educator that wins the WE Teacher award—saves each reflection, binds them into books with the addition of her own personal essay on why each student is a wonder themselves and gifts the collection to students at the end of year. The result is a personal talisman each student takes with them.

Supporting students through trauma will look different in every classroom. There’s no single path; but every teacher needs the space to be vulnerable and build relationships—those two things are the core of trauma-informed approach embraced by Currier. “This is easier said than done,” says Currier. “There is no time in our day for these things.”

So, while some days a student-led conversation or reading time may derail her lesson plan—it’s worth it to see students grow their sense of self-worth and begin believing they can trust others to help them. “Teachers got into this for the kids,” says the educator. “All I can do is set them up to be better, to be healthier, when they leave me.”


Walgreens knows that at the heart of every community are our unsung heroes—teachers. That’s why they’ve partnered with WE to develop a program that provides free tools and resources to teachers nationwide to help them address the changing needs of their classrooms, like funding and addressing critical social issues.

WE Teachers | Made possible by Walgreens Trusted since 1901
WE Teachers | Made possible by Walgreens Trusted since 1901