The data is clear: Our students are in the midst of a mental health crisis. A survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in three high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, and nearly half of all students felt persistently hopeless.

We’re now seeing the ripple effects of three years of education disruptions and seismic shifts in learning structures, which underscore the vital importance of caring for the whole student. Our students’ difficulties mirror the increasing anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation that teens nationwide are experiencing. Over the past two years, Tempe Union High School District has centered its focus on prioritizing student mental health. Here’s how we did it–and what we’ve learned.

Leveraging the power of student voices

When we returned to in-person learning, we saw that our students needed even more support than we imagined. We didn’t hesitate when it came to getting them the resources they needed, because timing is critical for mental health challenges.

We asked our student representatives what social-emotional support they and their fellow students needed. That conversation evolved into a districtwide comprehensive mental health policy adopted by Tempe Union’s governing board in 2021. Cementing a resolution around social-emotional wellness into our policies signaled to our students and community that holistic health is a major priority for Tempe Union.

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