Post-graduate Readiness of EPHS Students

Our children are the future. The lessons we teach them and the education they receive while in their primary years will shape the way the world is run. However, despite all the technical and societal advances made in the past fifty years, high school graduate’s mental health and civic engagement concern are at an all time low. Students graduating from Estes Park High School in the years to come are stepping into a world much greater than themselves. As they begin walking their future paths they will need to utilize post-secondary skills they learn at EPHS and if that education is lacking, none will excel. Watching our graduates move on to the wider world prompts those left behind to ask if the civic and mental health education provided to our seniors has sufficiently prepared them for life beyond the walls of our high school.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a person can only achieve self actualization (reaching full potential or true happiness) if every one of their basic needs has been met. No one can be truly happy if they’re worried about where their next meal is coming from or the potential of violence at home. Hopelessness is a cycle: without happiness it’s very hard to excel in a career or achieve long term goals but it’s also easy to feel pessimistic when you aren’t successful. Education breaks this cycle. By teaching our children how to remain mentally balanced and also speaking plainly about mental illness, we can raise a happier generation than those before.

   Mental Health Colorado published an article on May 17, 2018 with staggering statistics: “11.93% of youth ages twelve to seventeen report suffering from at least one major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year.” That number may seem small, but when you take into account that Colorado has the ninth highest suicide rate in the country, that number weighs heavier.

         As students at Estes Park High School prepare for graduation, many wonder if we have prepared these students for a lifelong struggle with mental health and how to deal with this massive part of our lives? In an interview with EPHS school counselor Kara McNamara, she stated schools comprehension of mental health has improved since her years in school. She expanded; “I think some of it’s out of necessity because we’re understanding more about what people need and what mental health may look like.” McNamara recounted her high school years saying they had felt as though there was never a person to go to for mental health issues.

         Hannah Heckerson, Estes Park High Schools Mental Health consultant, also felt that there had been no one to help her address mental health when she was in high school. Heckerson expounded; “I would say there’s been a noticeable increase in resources for students struggling with mental health, but then again I do have a bias because I’m often the resource.” Mental health in school communities seems to be improving but we still have a long way to go. Both counselors believe that it is important to seek help at a younger age. Heckerson explained that young minds are creating pathways, and these pathways can be hard to eliminate if you continue having thoughts of sadness because they become habits, which makes the pathway harder to break. The EPHS School District is trying to improve the outcome that teachers and experiences have on mental health. Heckerson and McNamara agree that we have a long way to go, but we have already come far and will continue to grow as a school and a district.  

         It would be very beneficial to EPHS if we had a separate person for college preparation instead of one person juggling both. Counselors and teachers should also make a collaborative effort to educate students on mental health and show them it is a normal thing to experience. Not only in our school but across the globe, curriculums like this could very much improve the way students view the school systems role within their lives. If teachers took these skills into the classrooms students would be much better at displaying post secondary skills in terms of mental health and coping mechanisms. Which could be very beneficial for those we are sending off into the world as well as how our world is effected.

     Sociology and governmental skills are also an imperative part of childhood education because of the impact it will have on future our government. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which is a significant decline from previous years, and public trust in government is at only 18 percent while voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996. Voter apathy and ignorance is a canker on the face of American democracy and if America’s children fail to grasp the importance of their rights and obligations as free citizens, all that our Nation stands for will crumble.

In a recent poll of Estes Park High School’s own faculty and students, a general consensus was made that EPHS does not do enough to prepare its students to be engaged, well informed citizens. In answer to the question “on a scale from 1-10, how  proficient do you think EPHS students are at displaying post-secondary skills by the time they graduate?” the average answer was 6.5; the highest score was a 7. When asked why they didn’t believe our proficiency was a 10, answers ranged from a lack of personal drive in the students to a feeling of futility, but all agreed that there was more that could be done to help the Bobcats further their dexterity in lifelong skills.

According to EducationDive, Boston school districts are “using policy solutions to tackle the root causes of issues facing their local communities such as bullying, youth homelessness and education funding” by teaching their students action driven civics. Rather than having the high schoolers sit in desks and memorize facts, each class is taught how much their voice matters by becoming actively involved in their community’s decisions and changing policies they don’t believe accurately reflect their beliefs and values. An article posted on November 23, 2018 by the Boston Globe proclaimed Massachusetts’ teen voting turnout was the highest in state history. By following their example, Colorado could bolster its civic participation and become a better representation of us, the people.

         As Park R-3 students for the last thirteen years, we’ve seen the ups and downs of a district in transition. There have been leaps and bounds of improvement when you compare our schools today to the schools ten years ago, but we’re a long way from perfect. The world is ever evolving and it falls to our schools to prepare the next generations for what waits beyond the city limits. By cementing the importance of civic and emotional education in the minds of our children, we can hope for a better future in the years to come.

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