We recently had the opportunity to connect with Kanesha Adams, a rural educator in Arkansas and the CEO and founder of Bearapy: Books, Bears, and Therapy–a grassroots effort to provide students with the essential social-emotional and counseling services they require. In addition to sharing about her organization, Kanesha tells about how her experiences growing up rural and becoming an educator inspired her move to create Bearapy.
“My journey into education, especially in the rural landscape has been two-fold: as a student and as an educator,” explains Kanesha Adams, CEO and founder of Bearapy: Books, Bears, and Therapy. “As a product of a rural school, I believe I learned most of my character traits from this experience. My family and I have lived in the southern part of Arkansas all my life, so I was raised in Southern hospitality. I believe my upbringing supports my desire to build strong relationships, and serve alongside communities as an advocate, educator, and change agent. My journey through my educational career, however, has led me to add my desire to be innovative.”
Though she’s long had a passion for working with children, Adams did not originally want to become a teacher. She explains: “I remember so clearly, people saying "teachers don't make money. They do it because they love it, not to become rich." When I was young, I wanted to be rich, so of course, teaching wasn't on my career trajectory, being an attorney and ultimately a juvenile judge was.”
But her path changed with an opportunity to not only become a teacher, but to return to her own rural hometown to become a rural educator:
“During my junior year in college my passion shifted. While researching as a McNair Scholar at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, I discovered how much inequity exists in rural, suburban, and urban schools by conducting research using pre-existing school data. The findings were disheartening, and I finished my degree in Criminal Justice, enrolled in an education program for my master's, and was later accepted into Teach For America where I served in the rural parts of my home state, including my own hometown."
“I didn't choose to teach in a rural place, the ‘rural home’ chose me. Teach for America sent me home to serve.”
Taking the opportunity to return home to begin her education career allowed Adams the chance to reflect on the unique characteristics that define rurality: “Rural means home. To me rural means relationships, uniqueness, resourcefulness, abilities, and LOVE. These were all things I learned and gained in my rural experience.”
And while these traits undoubtedly symbolize the area she grew up in, Adams recognizes too that many of these qualities are born out of necessity: “Some of the challenges that I experienced while living in rural areas was the limited access to resources. I know this may seem strange as I stated that rural means resourcefulness, however, people who lived in rural towns learned to use what they had to thrive and survive. Some of the opportunities I've experienced have always been the opportunity to be innovative and to create.”
One of those opportunities to innovate and be creative came when Adams founded Bearapy. Acting on the belief “that children need support to navigate these trying times post-pandemic,” Adams hopes to help “heal hearts and minds through books and bears, one child at a time.”
Bearapy consists of three main components:
Digital Libraries – The digital library is shelved with self-care books from self-published authors across the country. Through the lens of the well-researched CASEL model, books focus on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Adams herself authors books to populate the library, recently releasing a new book told to highlight the power and impact of African-American Women throughout history.
Monthly Livestreams – Bearapy hosts monthly live streams through their app that are whole-class sessions hosted by therapists, artists, musicians, authors, and more. These lessons are 30 minutes to 1 hour sessions intended to support social and emotional learning for students in classrooms.
Hug-N-Luv Buddies – Bearapy has several Hug-N-Luv buddies that can be purchased to support programming. Their Hug-N-Luv buddies are stuffed animal friends that make reading and learning engaging and excited.