‘Mental health is now more important than ever’ – Why the psychology teachers endorse psychology as a graduation requirement and why it is not

Mental health is now more important than ever -  Why the psychology teachers endorse psychology as a graduation requirement and why it is not

Emilia Helbig, Staff Writer

Understanding who you are is a very big, if not the biggest, part of growing up. Especially being a teenager, but really at any given point in life, psychology undeniably plays a major role in everybody’s daily life. 

Learning to understand and explain human behavior, how to be more empathic, and, at its base, how social interactions work, is a big part of what is being taught in the psychology classes at Fossil Ridge High School. Fossil offers a standard five credit psychology and a 10 credit AP psychology course. 

The Psychology teachers are Alex Oberto, who teaches AP Psychology, and Dr. Erin Carson and Kerry Reynolds, who teach regular Psychology. They all agree that it is such an important thing that Psychology should be a graduation requirement. 

“Especially mental health is such a huge part of psychology and now more than ever, we need more mental health support and education for students,” said Oberto. “We can help students not only understand their own behavior, but their friends, families, classmates, or co-workers behavior better, build more empathetic humans. Learning how our human tendencies and the ways we think impact our future is so beneficial and powerful. It can help students live healthier lives early on.”  

Many students are struggling with exactly that.

“Now more than ever, it is so important to create successful adults because the world’s not getting easier,” added Reynolds.

“I agree with them. Exploring the individual mind, understanding [yourself], being able to have autonomy and informed decision making are all really important life skills,” said Sarah Switala, a counselor at Fossil. 

So, why is psychology “only” an elective? That has a couple of reasons. 

First of all: “Psychology doesn’t cleanly fall into one of those standards that we ground ourselves in,” said Robert Beauchamp, the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for Poudre School District, explaining the district’s approach to the issue. 

“They’re a bit traditional in some standards. But they do try to provide a holistic, almost a liberal arts sort of education,” said Switala.

“It goes back to: What is the point of a high school diploma? What do we want the kids to have learned when they graduate?” said Beauchamp.

Also, Poudre School District wants to offer the students to choose what they have a passion for rather than require more. “It allows more flexibility in a student’s schedule,” said Beauchamp.

“I think psychology is super important for every student, not just people interested in the brain,” said Reynolds on the other hand.

“It’s the same way we don’t give the choice to students to pick whether they take math or whether they take english. We view those as skills necessary to be a successful adult moving forward. If I apply that same lens to psychology, then I don’t feel like it’s unheard to ask for that to be required either,” said Oberto. 

Of course, requiring psychology would have its drawbacks as well. “You have to really make sure that students are buying into the importance of it. Especially because it can be such a sensitive topic for some. If kids aren’t taking it seriously and being respectful, that can be pretty damaging,” said Reynolds. 

Additionally, “A lot of what our graduation requirements are, is aligned with admissions requirements,” said Switala.

“Is psychology one of the classes that you would need to take in college making it make sense to take the AP course in high school?” said Beauchamp. 

One more barrier to requiring it is graduation rates. “Right now, with COVID and everything, the numbers are struggling a little bit, so I don’t think they will consider adding any requirements,” said Switala. 

What would the actual process of requiring psychology look like though? 

“The teachers would want to start having that discussion with the department head. They could also reach out to the other high schools to talk with the psychology teachers there and see what their impressions are. And then they would want to approach their principals, kind of move up the chain. And then that would be district level,” explained Switala. 

“I would be the one to take it to the assistant superintendent who could present it to the superintendent and cabinet, our Board of Education, and think through the different benefits or challenges of the proposal,” said Beauchamp. 

Colorado is one of the few states that allows districts to determine their own graduation requirements. In order to make something a statewide graduation requirement, the legislators would need to approve it. A big thing. Luckily, there could be something in between, a compromise. 

“Actually, for about seven to eight years, we have been working on expanding the options. Nothing would be taken away, but it would be an opportunity to say ‘Hey, more opportunities’ and add psychology to two graduation credit categories, for example, wellness or social studies. That might be an entry point,” said Beauchamp. 

“I would even love to see psychology just be offered as a social studies class or a science class,” said Dr. Carson. “That would give it more value, more meat.”

Despite all the barriers they would have to get through, the psychology teachers would be willing to push for it, at least for starting by having it as social studies, science, or wellness instead of elective credit, but it will not work without support.

“Teachers would help, students would help, parents would be a huge help. That’s honestly what would be probably a pretty big deciding factor,” said Reynolds. “We understand it would be one more thing added, one more hoop to jump through. But it would be so worth it.”

“When most kids leave their psychology classes, they feel like it was a valuable experience,” said Oberto. “If anyone has questions about the class, or what’s the science, come talk to us about it.” 

What do you think about it? Should we have psychology as a graduation requirement? Or should we leave that choice completely to the students? 

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Should Psychology be a graduation requirement?


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