This interview was conducted during the 2020-2021 winter break.
Q. What are you doing to help your students with their mental health?
I'm one of two teachers in the whole district that actually majored in health education. So when I came to the district and just because I had high accolades from my previous district, they asked me, "What do you think we should do with the curriculum?"
And the first thing I said is we need to make a bigger focus on mental and emotional health with everything that's going on. And they took that advice and they ran with it and they trusted me. And so I've actually adapted the curriculum to talk more about mental and emotional health and also healthy and safe relationships.
Before the curriculum was very similar to a science curriculum, where they talked a lot about like anatomy or biology. That's a lot of what the health was. And even when I think back to high school, I don't remember much from my health class—shame on me being a health teacher. But I do remember a lot of talking about the body, like bones and stuff. All that stuff's important, but at the same time, I try to structure it in a way of what can these students use right now. And one thing that I've noticed Is the student's mental and emotional health is just gone down.
When I first started teaching at West—so this was three years ago—suicide was the number three killer among individuals 15 to 24 years old. And then my second year teaching at West, just doing my research and making sure all my statistics are all on par. Within that one year, I saw that suicide moved from number three to number two. So number the number two killer of individuals 15 to 24 years old is suicide. And knowing that, knowing what I know about mental health, and you got to remember what I said, I originally wanted to be a psychologist. I saw the great impact for mental and emotional health for all students. Because again, there's so much going on inside and especially nowadays with the rise of social media, because I think social media and—using it is one of the main causes, one of the main drives for anxiety and depression. I think students need to learn more about it and learn how to cope with it.
What's been great, I've had students come to me and say, because of your class and what we learned I was motivated to talk to my parents about going to a psychiatrist and they are getting the treatment they need. And they said they would not have gotten that treatment. They would not have been motivated to do that if they did not hear what I had to say in my class and do the lessons that we did.
I mean, that's been great to hear. So for me, health wise, personally, I try to make the shift from a more of a biological scientific approach. Again, like talking about cells and talking about the bones and anatomy and physiology, which don't get me wrong, all that's important. Students also have the option to take an anatomy and physiology class in high school. I try to focus more on mental, emotional health, and then relationships, healthy relationships because geez, man. At first, when we were in high school, even I'm guilty of this. And I tell my students this, I would do these things and I'm like, man, I don't think this is healthy, but we were still doing them because we weren't taught any better.
We really didn't have classes on dating and I thought, okay you know what, maybe this is just a high school thing. But then I noticed that when I got to college, I would see a lot of the same things. And then I noticed that even as an adult, I see a lot of the same things. So that's another thing that I emphasize on just healthy and safe relationships.
And I tell students, look, it does not matter who you're dating. What's important is that the relationship is healthy and safe and they respond very well to that because that's my biggest focus is you gotta be in a healthy, safe relationship and that's it. But you also have to learn how to be in a healthy and safe relationship, which again, we weren't taught.
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