I am Beatriz Martinez Peñalver, born and raised in Cali, Colombia, the youngest of three siblings and the only girl in my family. I completed high school in Colombia at age 17 and came to the US to pursue my college education. I graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a major in psychology and proceeded to graduate from Nova Southeastern University with a Master of Science in Mental Health.
I realized that I had a great life, but I was on cruise control. I realized I needed to find a greater purpose for my life. So, I prayed and meditated with the intention of finding a way to use my talents or skills for the good of all. In that searching, I realized that we as a society have completely neglected our children’s mental health by not giving them an emotional literacy curriculum in school. This was it! This was the purpose I was looking for. My purpose is to change children’s education around the world. I want to make emotional literacy an essential part of all children’s education, just like reading and math.
I felt that my life was complete. I had a beautiful healthy daughter, a lovely home and a wonderful husband. I co-foudned a community mental health center called Healthy Connections with the best business partner anyone could hope for, Ms. Prince Drago, LMHC. Healthy Connections has been sering children and families in the Miami community for almost 18 years.
One evening, as I sat in bed with my daughter going over our gratitude list and observing a few moments of silence, a huge epiphany struck me like a lightning bolt. I suddenly realized that I have been telling my daughter every day “thoughts become things, keep them beautiful”, but I never stopped to ask myself “what thoughts do I have that I WANT to be come things?” I couldn’t think of anything.
Every morning, when I drop my daughter Sofia off at school, I remind her “Thoughts become things, keep them beautiful.” I have been doing this every single morning for years. It is a personal mantra that I have always held true in my life and what I believe to be the cornerstone to good mental fitness.
My husband, Alberto Peñalver, is a psychiatrist who works for a national tele-medicine company. He is licensed to practice in over 30 states and has been a great support in making my dreams of nationwide emotional literacy education a reality.
As a young girl I used to love the show Magnum PI and Tom Selleck was the man of my dreams. In 1992, when I was working at Jackson Memorial Hospital, I met a very handsome Cuban psychiatrist named Alberto Peñalver that looked just like my Magnug PI heartthrob. I casually told my unit psychiatrist that he looked like the man of my dreams, and of course, he ended up telling Alberto that. Just two days later, Alberto and I bumped into each other in the elevator at the building I lived in, it just happened that we both lived in the same building. It was fate! We got married 12 years later, and I am happy to report he is still the man in my dreams. We have an amazing daughter who will be a sophomore at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart and a beautiful Coton de Tulear that will be 10 years old in the fall.
In all the years that I have practiced psychotherapy, I have never met anyone who has sought treatment for not being able to remember 8th grade algebra or the state capital of Arizona. My patients come to me dealing with depression, anxiety of conflicts with their family because they do not have the tools, they need to improve their relationships, challenge erroneous thoughts or follow their dreams. Happiness is a skill that can be taught, and our educational system completely forgot to give our children the most important foundation.
Research shows that more than one third of Americans feel dissatisfied with their life. There has been na increase of over 400% in the use of antidepressants since 1988. Despite all of these facts, we are still not doing enough, across the nation’s school systems and the world, to teach our children how to become emotionally literate. We are failing to carry out one of our main duties: preparing the next generation to enjoy a life filled with joy and purpose.
Triumph Steps is my answer to give mental fitness to children at home and at schools. We are so busy trying to give our children each day more and more intellectual knowledge; we have completely forgot to give them skills for life; skills that teach the importance of developing the right thought patterns to avoid self-defeating behaviors later on in life. Teaching children about the correct thought patterns from the beginning of life will help them reduce any limiting thoughts and grow up inspired to create the extraordinary life they deserve.
Now is the time for emotional literacy to become an integral part of our educational system. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I dedicate most of my time now making sure parents give their children the tools to be happy and finding ways to implement emotional literacy in a true universal way, where no child is left behind in the education of the mind.
In 2018 the states of New York and Virginia became the first states to require a mental wellness curriculum in schools. Both laws came into effect amid an increased focus on mental health. I pray that this huge step forward is one Florida and all other states will implement in the near future. I pleaded to the Constitutional Revision Commission in 2017 but sadly it did not go anywhere.
This could happen by implementing a stand-alone class, or that students are required to have a certain number of credits on emotional intelligence before they graduate.