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Cultivating A Positive Learning Environment
Principally Speaking 10-18-23

At Vista High School, we are committed to fulfilling our mission statement of preparing our students to be college and career ready. To achieve this, we recognize the importance of cultivating a supportive and positive learning environment. We value the active participation of our educational partners and take their input seriously. We understand that mental health plays a pivotal role in ensuring our students’ overall well-being and academic achievement. In response to this concern, we have developed a plan to address the mental health needs of our students.

During the annual Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) meeting conducted by the Escalon Unified School District, our educational partners, including parents, students, and teachers, voiced their concerns about the mental health challenges faced by our students. In a similar fashion, our Vista School Site Council members made up of parents, community members, school staff and students voiced concerns about students’ mental health and desired for a school wide activity to help address these concerns in a meaningful way. We have listened to the voices of all educational partners, and we are determined to take action.

The challenges related to mental health, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, have been prevalent in the lives of teenagers for decades. The pressure of achieving academic milestones, especially graduation, can be overwhelming. In recent years, we have observed a significant rise in the number of students struggling with these issues. Data indicates that cases of stress, anxiety, and depression have nearly doubled from pre-pandemic levels, leading to some urgency of our response. This upward trend has come under the radar of our staff and acknowledged as a concern shared by our entire community.

Research found in Art Therapy (2016), has demonstrated the positive impact of art on mental health, particularly in reducing anxiety and stress. Engaging in artistic activities can have therapeutic effects, providing an outlet for emotions and promoting relaxation. Research also shows that engaging in creative expression can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins, which are associated with pleasure and a sense of well-being. This release of “feel-good” chemicals can counteract the effects of stress and anxiety, promoting a sense of relaxation and contentment. Studies found in Journal of the American Art Therapy Association (2017) provide strong evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of art in reducing anxiety and stress. Engaging in creative activities can be a valuable tool for individuals seeking to manage their mental health and well-being.

In response to this collective call for support and deep dive into the research, we initiated the “Mental Health Mondays” led by our leadership class. This initiative involves organizing small-scale events during lunchtime, where students can engage in therapeutic activities in the form of coloring sessions. Students are provided with materials that include coloring books ranging from superheroes and Disney characters to mindful patterns with inspirational quotes along with coloring pencils. While our leadership class organized the distribution of these materials, our staff opened their classrooms and main office, providing welcoming spaces for students to participate in these activities. With our first Mental Health Monday behind us, our leadership students ensured that the initiative ran smoothly.

Our plan was created by our educational partners but we definitely could not have reached our goal without the support of our district office personnel. We asked for assistance from the district to purchase our supplies and we had our materials within days of us submitting our proposal. We are in the beginning stages of creating positive and welcoming school culture tied in with coping strategies to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. We have aligned our current goal with our school’s mission and vision. By addressing the mental health needs of our students and reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, we aim to create an environment where students can thrive academically and personally.

Our commitment to the well-being of our students is an ongoing process that we are fully invested in. Our overall goal continues to be to create a welcoming and great learning environment to help us meet our school mission and vision statement of having students college and career ready but also helping them learn strategies to cope with day-to-day struggles. By actively listening to our community and responding with a purposeful initiative like “Mental Health Mondays,” we are taking the first meaningful step toward our goal of providing a supportive, caring, and positive learning atmosphere for all. After our first successful Mental Health Monday, seeing our students proudly show off their artwork and how passionately they worked, it was all worth it and we will continue to build a school culture where every student feels valued, supported, and empowered to achieve their fullest potential.


Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.