By Agatha ‘26
At a 7th grade Family Visiting Day a few months ago, the admissions office gathered all of the ambassadors before families started to arrive, giving directions for the day and taking any last-minute questions. Beyond the usual protocol, the admissions office offered us some guidelines for handling sensitive questions regarding mental health at Harvard-Westlake. Sure enough, I received multiple inquiries from curious and concerned families about the state of students’ well-being at our school and how HW has responded to recent, tragic losses in our school community. I realized that mental health and wellness at school, while still difficult topics, are increasingly things that parents and applicants want to hear about and consider when applying, and that students themselves are the best people to hear from.
Often considered one of the best private high schools in the nation, Harvard-Westlake has a prestigious reputation and is known for its intensive academic rigor, success in athletics, and impressive college matriculation. There is a certain amount of pressure at a school where classes are challenging, students are exceptional, and college admissions are a focus. In recent years, Harvard-Westlake has taken extra steps to ensure that students have readily accessible mental health support and resources to combat both the unique stressors that come with a school like HW, and the nationwide youth mental health crisis affecting millions of teens.
Last fall, HW administered the JED Foundation Survey, which according to a schoolwide email sent by the Upper School Dean Team, focuses on “helping to further develop our school’s policies, programs, and practices to enhance student mental health and well-being”. The 100% anonymous survey allows students to share their thoughts and opinions and helps the school to identify areas of growth. In addition, the school hosted additional counselors from outside the school community who were available for drop-in counseling during students’ free time. A major change for the 2023-2024 school year was assigning every upper-school student a dedicated counselor, in order to reduce stigma around seeking counseling, and so that students and parents “have a clear picture of who students can go to when they need mental health support” (according to a schoolwide email sent by administration). HW administration also shared a working Mental Health and Wellness document with the school community that outlined the plans and initiatives to intensify mental health support and resources. The extensive document detailed both immediate and long-term steps for suicide response and prevention, increasing student support, introducing skills and coping strategies, and maximizing healthy human connection within the school community. Lastly and most recently, as a response to the deeply troubling issues unfolding in the world, the counseling team shared community resources and hotlines and provided opportunities for support during after-hours and over winter break in a school-wide email.
A good school (at any level of education) is both a hub for education and learning, but is also a community and a safety net. I believe that Harvard-Westlake is doing everything in its power to support students and their mental health. The many trained adults available for mental health support, the work being done to de-stigmatize counseling, and the implementation and expansion of wellness initiatives are helping to increase awareness and change the culture around mental health in our school community.