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Local high school creates advisory period for students to focus on mental health, coursework

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Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 07, 2022

MONUMENT — A local high school is helping to strengthen students' mental and emotional well-being.

Palmer Ridge High School in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 is adjusting its schedule to allow students an advisory period to focus on their mental health.

"Bear Time" gives students 25 minutes after the first period to relax, socialize, address mental health concerns with counselors, receive tutoring, and prepare for college.

"A lot of times in our school and community, people are academically focused and that becomes the purpose and foundation of their lives," said Thomas Fry, Palmer Ridge High School Senior.

He says the academic pressure can take a toll on students' mental health.

"We come here to do work then we go home to do work," said Fry. "I think it's okay to use it as a relaxing period, but I also think it's a good opportunity to go to tutoring, go see counselors and access those resources that might not be available during other times of the day."

Fry says it can be tough for students to find time to utilize these resources.

"A lot of the time, we're worried about missing class time or we have homework to do so we can't go to a counselor. Having that free time, and time, where counselors are available, is a good idea," said Fry.

Palmer Ridge High School Principal Dr. Adam Frank says families and students expressed a need for the Advisory Period.

"I've continued to hear throughout this first year the need to reach students in additional ways, beyond just academic performance. That scope includes a lot of things like time for students to review for a test, catch up on schoolwork, having a better sense of belonging in the school. Opportunities for students to share mental health concerns that they might have, just creating an environment to teach social and emotional learning and even college and career preparedness," said Frank.

During this time, educational videos will be played on the dangers of vaping, how to cope with stress, and college and career preparedness.

"Advisory models have been around for decades. They have the potential to be very effective, I've experienced them in other school districts where I've worked. Sometimes they can evolve into free time, but we plan on really programming it so we can maximize that 25 minute period to help students with intervention, seeing other teachers and counselors," said Frank.

The advisory period was created without extending the school day. Instead, five minutes was taken from morning announcements and every class from the block schedule. They also reduced the amount of time between classes from seven to five minutes.

"We did a lot of reflective deliberation about it, and we even tested how long it takes to get from the further point of the building to the opposite. We think five minutes is enough for students to get to class," said Frank.

Students say it's a good first step toward improving mental health, but more still needs to be done.

"When I talk about mental health, there are two changes that need to be made. There is a culture change about mental health, de-stigmatizing it and making people feel okay to talk about it. Then there are the fundamental changes we need to make to the system," said Fry. "One thing I've been advocating for is that we need more counselors."

The schedule change will be implemented next school year.