Wellness at CFHS


Photo Courtesy of CFHS Yearbook

In the past decade, the conversation around mental health has become much more prominent. Young people are more inclined to discuss their struggles and seek professional help because mental health struggles have become less stigmatized.
CFHS has been proactive in adapting to the growing need for mental health resources by introducing a new leadership position, and Wellness Club. This year, Ms. Lacey Caparanis became the district Wellness Coach, along with Mrs. Tania Gordon, the CFHS Mental Health specialist.
Both Mrs. Gordon and Ms. Caparanis feel strongly about giving students an outlet for help. Mrs. Gordon agrees that generally, mental health struggles have become less stigmatized, and there is more openness within communities of students. However, society and CFHS have room to grow when it comes to making people feel more comfortable. She referenced an experience she had with Professor Culler Stuart’s class.
She spoke to his students about mental health, and “when it came to questions in the first period, nobody asked any. So in the next periods throughout the day, we gave paper for people to write questions anonymously, and the questions were phenomenal,” said Mrs. Gordon. “I think that does say a lot to still there being somewhat of a stigma or discomfort in asking questions or talking about mental health in a group setting.”
Ms. Caparanis agrees but has noticed there exists more community around mental health, and people are more likely to be open when they have others to relate to. Although she only works with students who are motivated to seek help, the general population has grown to see mental health for what it is: an everyday struggle.
In addition to common struggles, school has a devastating effect on teens’ mental health. According to a 2016 article by NPR, one in five high school students suffers from a diagnosed mental health disorder, and the effects are only heightened by school. Ms. Caparanis has noticed that since trauma and home life affect school as well as the common stressors such as tests and grades, on the academic side, it can be hard to understand a student’s holistic situation.
“Teachers don’t get access to [students’ deep-rooted struggles] as readily, and that’s why it’s good for us to be here to offer help both on a student-by-student basis, but also teaching how trauma affects kids’ ability to learn,” claimed Ms. Caparanis.
Teachers have an interesting position when it comes to their involvement in students’ mental health. On one hand, they have everyday access to students, so they can get to know them well. However, they are not necessarily equipped to handle deep-rooted issues within students that can affect their schoolwork.
Mrs. Gordon agrees. “Teachers are in a perfect position to be that first step of noticing that there’s something going on with a student. Teachers aren’t trained in mental health…but they can be a trusted adult and help a student connect with more help if they need it,” she said.
Educators have boundaries because they’re responsible for so many students. Their role as trusted adults who can refer their students to better help is very important. Teachers generally do not receive specialized training in how to handle different emotional struggles within their students, so it’s beneficial for teachers to have background information.
In regards to extra teacher training, Ms. Caparanis does not “think it’s realistic or necessary in a school that’s very proactive. It’s good to provide some sort of training so they have that foundational knowledge so they don’t have to have a formal education around [mental health],” she said. “I think in a perfect world that would be great but I don’t think that it’s necessarily realistic.”
Mr. Jarrod Mulheman, the Director of Student Relations for CFEVS, has a differing opinion. He believes it would be necessary, however, he knows that “from working in schools, it is a tough balance to find and to ask of people. There are teachers who are naturally more inclined to do that type of work, and that’s fair. I think that if we as administrators are asking teachers to be more involved in that way, then yes they definitely could use more professional development,” he explained.
Mr. Mulheman thinks it would be realistic to add more specialized mental health training for teachers.
“Ideally you get people who are more interested in participating at a volunteer level. You could level it based on how involved people feel comfortable getting…the more choice you give people the better the results are,” he said. “The more people you can get involved with that work the better.”
The Chagrin Falls district has a reputation for proactivity when it comes to its students’ mental health. The school has counselors available in every school, for every grade level, as well as mental health specialists like Ms. Caparanis and Mrs. Gordon at the higher levels. They both agree that making students aware of the resources the school has to offer is an important first step in making students more comfortable in school.
In addition to staff members, Mr. Kyle Patterson started a Wellness Club last school year, in which high school students can be a resource to middle schoolers. A team of trained freshmen through seniors will meet with middle school classes to share advice and emphasize that they are not alone in their struggles. The club hopes to instill a message of community throughout CFMS, that students will carry with them to high school.
Mental health affects every aspect of students’ lives, so schools need to have outlets where they can seek help.