Suicide shakes SDUHSD. Administration hears from students.
January 9, 2019
SDUHSD students expressed concern over mental health and academic stress at a student summit hosted by new Superintendent Robert A. Haley at Earl Warren Middle School on December 20. Several student representatives from each of the 10 schools in the district attended to discuss the positive attributes of each school, and what they felt needed work.
When explaining the purpose of the summit, Haley said, “We’ve had some social-emotional issues that have come up, unfortunately the death by suicide [at CCA] being one of them, that really shook us all. In the midst of that, people were saying ‘you need to listen to the students.’”
After discussion and group activities from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the representatives from each school gave an oral report to “representatives of our Board of Trustees, principals and parent organization leadership.” Each group was given about five minutes to present what they had discussed.
SDA was represented by senior Jeremy Romero, junior David Salzman, sophomore Alexa Mendes, and freshman Micah Sandoval.
Salzman said, “There’s a lot of stress at SDA. It’s really hard to address if you are just trying to say, ‘stop being stressed’…. We need to emphasize that you don’t have to take all these AP classes, you don’t have to be in all these extracurriculars.”
Romero continued, saying that this atmosphere can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, stress and depression. He said, “We need to focus on mental health, and just make sure our students are happy.”
While all students made statements of pride for the schools they came from, concerns over academics, stress, and connectedness were a common theme among the high schools.
A representative from Torrey Pines said, “Everyone at Torrey Pines is so passionate and competitive about academics, it makes it overwhelming at times. I know that’s a problem at a lot of schools.” The representative added, “more awareness [needs to be] brought to the fact that students have things going on outside of school, personal issues, stuff like that, needs to be addressed more.” They also brought up concerns over mental health and drug and alcohol abuse.
A representative from LCC said, “Kids are sitting alone at lunch. We’ve had kids come from small schools and just can’t fit in. It’s stemming from a lack of spirit, and truly a lack of caring.” Another LCC student representative cited racist, sexist, and discriminatory remarks against those with disabilities.
A representative from CCA said, “Life doesn’t end at high school. It goes on. Not everything is about what college you get into. Students going in need to know that this isn’t what their life depends on.” To reduce stress, CCA representatives suggested the implementation of a confidentiality policy, in which students would not discuss their grades with peers, to reduce feelings of competition among students.
Another representative from CCA said, “We really want to get changes done. We’ve identified a lot of issues, but we haven’t taken enough steps to enact solutions.”
According to Haley, the three administrators that facilitated the organization of the event were himself and the two associate superintendents, Brian Marcus and Mark Miller. “None of us had ever done anything like this before, so it was all new to us,” Haley said.
“We’re not asking for a to-do list. What we really want to emphasize to the students is: we’re here to get your perspective. We’re here to show you that we can listen,” Haley said. “We aren’t saying ‘Okay, by 11:30, give us five things we need to change.’ That’s not the idea, certainly not the idea for the first one. We want to demonstrate that as school leaders, we will engage with you, we will listen to what your perspective is.”
“We all started this journey this morning, and it’s not an ending point,” Haley said. “We’re not hearing everything and fixing everything and solving everything in one morning.” Haley anticipates the next summit to be in the spring, and hopes for them to be held biannually.