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Nurturing the Brokenhearted

December 2023

School administrators awarding an over-sized check to a teacher who is holding flowers and a plaque.

Molly Michaels was an elementary school teacher in Salt Lake City specializing in special education when the COVID-19 pandemic upended her students’ lives.

“It was a crazy time,” she recalls. “As I was working with my students and their families, the pandemic highlighted the need for better mental health support in schools.”

That’s when Michaels determined to return to college and pursue an educational specialist degree in school psychology.

Trauma-Informed Care

Now a second-year postgraduate student in the BYU McKay School of Education, Michaels is focused on studying trauma-informed care in early childhood education.

“Research shows that children who are exposed to trauma at a young age can carry it with them throughout their lives,” says Michaels. “It affects how they function in school, at home, in the community, and in relationships. I’m interested in supporting our youngest of learners with trauma-informed care practices that are adapted for their age.”

Michaels attended two other universities before coming to BYU. She chose BYU for its outstanding program in school psychology, and she quickly recognized other things that set BYU apart. “BYU gives more individualized support to students,” she says. “My professors are very accessible, and they make sure that I’m learning what I need to take my career where I want it to go. They also encourage their students to be in tune with the Spirit, and that helps us see the students we’re working with through an inspired lens.”

Teacher of the Year

During her first year at BYU, Michaels continued to teach part-time in Salt Lake City. This post-pandemic time was especially stressful for teachers, Michaels says. But despite those challenges and the additional difficulty of splitting her time between teaching and graduate school, Michaels was honored by the Salt Lake City School District as the Special Education Teacher of the Year.

“There were so many deserving teachers,” she says. “Remote learning was hard. We had to be creative with helping students. Then we had to transition them back to in-person learning. It was a lot of hard work, and I was grateful that it was recognized.”

Serving the Community

Michaels has since scaled back her time as a teacher to focus more on her studies. However, she continues to work with the Salt Lake City School District to mentor new teachers.

After she graduates, Michaels hopes to develop improved training programs that give educators the tools they need to help young children who have experienced trauma. “Early childhood educators are the first line of support to help those students,” she says.

“I love working with students and families, and I love being in schools. I believe in what I’m doing. BYU is supportive and helps me have the experiences I need to be successful because its goal is for students to go out and serve. BYU is investing in me and in the community.”

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