A-West admin must promote mental health as crippling issues rise amid pandemic


The current learning environment has created a severe mental health crisis for the students of A-West. Mental health has become a major concern for many students. The roots of that concern sprout from the administration’s inability to effectively aid the students who are struggling. That is not to say resources are not accessible to students, but more of the fact that administrators inadvertently aid more in the decay of mental health by taking little action to promote mental health resources and adapt the learning environment. 

COVID-19 has developed a year in which people are constantly adjusting to the changing environment around them. This is why the A-West administration needs to put forth more effort in adapting to an environment that focuses on the pursuit of strong mental health for its students and more effectively promote mental health resources. 

Poll taken out of 132 A-West students on November 15.

In a poll taken out of 132 students responding to the question of how their mental health has been within the past month, 87% said their mental health could be better. Then 81% said that they believe the A-West administration has done nothing to recognize that students are struggling with their mental health.

The reason these percentages are so high is because students are expected to learn over a screen with minimal teacher connection and a high amount of pressure to perform well on tests. These students are expected to shift from 10 or more years of in-person schooling to a fully remote learning platform. 

To aid mental health, the school system needs to adjust their expectations of students and change their curriculum to support the overall mental health of their students. 

Geree Santarelli, the principal of A-West, stresses that “we’re [A-West administrators] trying to move away from chasing points; we want kids chasing the learning instead of just like, ‘Oh, I have to get this ten-point assignment in to get a B’ to ‘I want to get this assignment in because it shows the teacher I understand this material.’”

With this in mind, this switch from points to learning would be ideal for the improvement of student mental health. 

Anna Kinzel, a senior at A-West states, “I believe the expectations of us need to be lowered this year. It is too stressful.” 

Teacher’s expectations are based on students completing a large workload compared to encouraging actual learning. To improve student mental health and overall learning, the way grade books are structured would need to shift in a way where tests and assignments are weighted at almost nothing.

Changing the way the grade book is structured would not only ease up on expectations of students but also reduce the stress of homework and tests for students if it were to be weighted less. 

Chad Donohue, a middle school English and social studies teacher wrote an article for the National Educational Association in 2015 stating that “extreme test anxiety may affect up to 20 percent of school-aged children, while another 18 percent may experience less severe forms of it. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America  warns us that ‘feelings of anger, fear, helplessness and disappointment are common emotional responses to test anxiety.’”

If tests were to be weighted as less in the grade book, this could help support students who suffer emotionally from test anxiety, therefore positively impacting their mental health.

Baileigh Friesen, a senior at A-West comments, “We’re being assigned too much at once, then being pushed to do it which doesn’t help [her mental health].” 

Other students who commented on ideas of what the A-West admin could do to improve the mental health of their students also mentioned a reduction in workload as it causes too much stress.

The A-West administration needs to begin to prioritize the overall mental health of their students over assigning piles of homework and putting a large amount of stress on kids to perform well on unit tests. 

Following a grade book adjustment to support students’ mental health, the A-West administration needs to take the next step in working to promote the mental health resources at the school.  

Santarelli mentions conversations with teachers pushing them to “give grace” and working to find methods to increase student engagement to support mental health in the classroom.  

Teachers have also been given training on how to engage with students, have been advised to only go with the essentials of their curriculum, and allow for more time to complete an in-class activity when learning remotely. 

In terms of mental health resources at A-West, Santarelli lists off, “We have six counselors…we have a grant counselor now who helps with engagement, Ms. Evans who is one of our social workers, and they’re reaching out to kids. I also have paid for a Jefferson County mental health provider to be in our building all the time.” 

If students wish to get a hold of a mental health professional all they need to do is contact their counselor and ask to be put in contact with either Ms. Evans or the Jefferson County mental health provider. A-West counselors also have mental health training and can help aid students’ mental health. 

The A-West administration has many mental health resources for students, but need to do a better job of creating awareness of these resources. 

At the moment, the only mention of mental health resources at A-West has been through the weekly newsletter, but A-West admin can take it a step further by posting about it on their social media, utilizing student organizations to help communicate mental health aid, actively pushing teachers to discuss aid at the beginning of class, placing links to aid in schoology advisement classes and taping up mental health resource posters within the school.

Knowing that the A-West admin is also struggling with how to handle this new school environment, they have done a fair job of working to provide mental health resources; they just need to get that information out to the students more readily.

The school system cannot carry on as normal while leaving a large population of its students left to rot as they struggle to overcome a mental health crisis.