Foxboro Elementary Principal Chris Whitaker makes strides in mental health servicesJul 12, 2022 11:13AM ● By Hannah Sandorf Davis
Each year Davis School District recognizes members of faculty and administration for their efforts to lead a healthy life. These Health Heroes are people who have either made healthy lifestyles choices in their life or have inspired wellness among others. The district recognizes Health Heroes with a certificate and small ceremony at the recipient’s school or office. Foxboro Principal Chris Whitaker was recognized as a Health Hero from the 2021 – 2022 school year.
Whitaker was surprised when she received the nomination. “I did not really expect it because I do not feel like I do anything unusually healthy,” she said. However, the nomination, she said, also includes mental and emotional health. “The certificate recognized me for the efforts we’ve made at Foxboro to prioritize mental health,” said Whitaker. “We make it a priority for students to know they are physically and emotionally supported. We want to hold strong and tell the truth even when it is difficult.”
Over her two decades serving as a school principal, Whitaker’s perspective on the role of a principal has changed. “I’ve learned how important it is to listen,” she said. “Listen to educators, parents, and students. Gain perspective to understand that even if something might not seem true from your perspective, it is true to them and their perspective.”
Another factor Whitaker says is important for positive mental health is cultural recognition and appreciation. Foxboro holds events every few months to recognize students with different backgrounds and heritage, including celebrations for Black History, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and National Hispanic Heritage months. “Celebrating cultures creates safety,” she said. “Students are safer when we learn about and appreciate their history.”
Whitaker appreciated the recognition of Foxboro’s efforts and plans to expand mental health support in the next school year. “We’re going to be hiring a part-time school therapist,” she said. “We’ve had a short-term therapist from the district before and it’s been helpful.” The school will also continue the Move This World program which focuses on empathy and creative expression to learn about relating to other people.
Foxboro also plans to continue some of the programs they’ve done in the past to see success. This includes individualized checkins with students by school counselors and having class lessons from counselors on positive interaction strategies. Whitaker also extends resource availability to the families of students. “Sometimes it’s a mental or physical health challenge in the home that is causing the student’s difficulties,” she said. “We try to help families access resources they need.”
Supporting parents and students is a key component of Whitaker’s recognition as a Health Hero, but so is the support resources for staff. The most important thing for teachers, said Whitaker, was that students are provided the resources they need. “By having a dedicated therapist and other emotional health resources it takes the burden off of teachers,” she said. “They do not have to be a teacher and a therapist for their students, they can focus on their experience and what they were trained to do – teach.” λ