Florida First Lady efforting curriculum for mental health, partnering professional athletes

NFL, NBA, MLS athletes and coaches share stories of their own struggles

Athletes in Florida will work to educate students on the importance of mental health as part of a new program announced by the governor and first lady of Florida.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis unveiled a new program for students Friday that will use curriculum in the classroom, volunteering in the community and the influence of professional athletes to help young people improve their mental health.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Casey DeSantis announced the new program in Orlando at the Amway Center with the help of former coach Lou Holtz, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins and former NFL player Corey Simon, now the CEO of Volunteer Florida.

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Casey DeSantis said a team with the Florida Department of Education spent time talking to students, parents, teachers and coaches across the state to find out what hurdles they face dealing with mental health and what can be done to better support them.

“One of the biggest barriers, hands down, that we both saw was the stigma,” Casey DeSantis said. “I had children tell me that if they admitted that they had a mental health issue that... meant that there was something inherently, innately wrong with them they told me quote, ‘That they would be considered damaged goods,’ unquote, and nothing could quote ‘fix the problem.’”

The first lady said some of the “resiliency curriculum” is finalized but other aspects are still being developed. She has also asked the Department of Education to incentivize outdoor and physical activity.

“This curriculum will focus on key fundamentals of teaching kids how to be resilient,” Casey DeSantis said. “For example, problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, the value of mentorship, empathy, respect, responsibility.”

The resiliency curriculum will also include volunteerism.

“Getting outside and serving others does so much good to put really good context and perspective on life doing good for others that obviously helps those in need,” the first lady said.

The DoE partnered with professional athletes “who are respected and looked up to by millions of kids across the state” who can share their stories “of being resilient and persevering through tough times,” Casey DeSantis said.

Simon, a former Florida State University footballer and Philadelphia Eagles player, described the stigma and struggles professional athletes face even when they appear to be on top of the world.

“We can dress it up, we can put on the outfit we can put on the uniform and how we can look like gladiators, but inside those guys that are leaving these lanes hurting,” he said, referring to two NFL players who took their lives in recent years.

Volunteer Florida will partner with the state to help arrange volunteer activities for students.

“I think all of us need a voice, and we need someone to talk to,” Simon said. “At Volunteer Florida, we’re just an organization trying to find those avenues and those opportunities for our young people and people in our communities, to have that conversation.”

Casey DeSantis said the curriculum will be free for all schools to use.

“There are some things that are cemented now. Curriculum is still starting to build, I would say that that’s you are going to be more CPalms, and then we’re going to be brainstorming how we can make this even bigger and better going forward,” Casey DeSantis said referring to CPalms, the online toolbox for educators.

Earlier in the morning, DeSantis spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, happening at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando through the weekend.

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