NewsCovering Colorado


Academy District 20's efforts on teen mental health

Posted at 7:32 PM, May 25, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — Teen suicide increased in El Paso County in 2020. As teens face increased pressure from the impacts of the pandemic, mental health has become a concern for many.

One local district is all too familiar with the heartache that comes from losing teens to suicide. It was about five years ago in Academy District 20 where several students at Discovery Canyon Campus died by suicide.

Since then, the district has worked to put in place several measures to help its students.

The approach involves everyone, from students to staff and their families.

"It's really a partnership between parents, the school, and the student to make sure that they're successful and the conversations include mental health," Mark Wahlstrom, the principal at Discovery Canyon Campus said.

Wahlstrom became the school's principal three years ago. While he wasn't a part of the school's administration during the time multiple suicides took place, he's continued work put in place by the previous leadership.

Academy District 20 also put community programs in place such as "parent academies" where parents would be able to learn about signs of distress and suicidal behavior. Additionally, the district has expanded peer support programs.

Discovery Canyon Campus is taking what Wahlstrom calls a strengths-based approach: focusing on what students are good at to foster a culture in the school.

Starting next school year, every student will be taking a strengths finder test.

"We look for students to share with us what their talents are, when students begin with their strengths they can build confidence and they can build upon those strengths to be successful," Wahlstrom said. The school has a "sources of strengths" program, where they help students tap into those strengths and then find support among mentors and students.

The school started a pilot program using the strengths test this year.

"The students have really gravitated to it," Wahlstrom said.

For many high school students, it's a challenging time with pressure for academic success and other social stressors.

"I think during the pandemic particularly was isolation, I think students felt very disconnected from each other although they are hyper-connected through social media," Wahlstrom said.

When the pandemic hit- the district also focused on making sure students would have the help they needed, even offering summer counseling programs for students in need.

If you or anyone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is out there. Resources are listed below.

National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255
Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255