Gretchen Vurbeff (Area 4)
Lancer Link: Do you believe it’s important for ALL students to have access to mental health resources on campus? What would you do to ensure these resources remain available to all students?
Gretchen Vurbeff: Yes, I believe it is important for ALL students to have access to mental health resources on campus. Mental health is a big focus of my campaign. Not only do I have a CUSD graduate in my home and a current CUSD student, but I have also been an educator and a parent volunteer on CUSD campuses and throughout the city for over 20 years, so I have an understanding of how important mental health is to the vitality of our school community. I think everyone felt the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their reactions and responses are as varied as our student population. Therefore, we can’t really predict how long various mental health resources will be needed. This is why we need to set a goal to keep the extra counselors we have on campuses now, due to temporary Covid funding, when the funding source disappears. In addition, we also need to continue to monitor and evaluate mental health issues with our students by communicating with parents and students on an ongoing basis.
LL: A significant amount of CHS classes have over 35 students per period. Do you believe that this class size is ideal for a healthy learning environment? If not, what would you do to change it?
GV: As an educator, I see first-hand how important it is to have smaller class sizes. A smaller class size enables me to really get to know my students and to establish relationships with them that are lasting. This builds community and that contributes to stronger mental health for everyone. As a parent, I have seen how my two students have received more individual attention and instruction when their class sizes are smaller. Many of the teachers in CUSD who are friends of mine have also shared how smaller class sizes allows them to manage the classroom better and permits them to provide more quality instruction to the students. It’s a win-win for students and teachers. In order to reduce class sizes, we need more funding to hire more teachers. One way to do that is by increasing enrollment in CUSD.
LL: “From July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles,” (PEN America). What will you do to ensure students have access to a diverse and inclusive curriculum in CUSD high schools?
GV: As I mentioned, I have had and do have CUSD students in my family. We’ve really enjoyed the diverse and inclusive curriculum in the classes, books and texts over the years. I think we need to continue to support an array of viewpoints while maintaining the integrity of the subject being taught.
LL: Do you think the workload at CUSD high schools has a negative effect on teenagers? What ideas do you have to help students manage high academic expectations?
GV: As an adjunct professor and wellness educator, I know that there are many pathways which lead to success. As a CUSD classroom and campus volunteer, team mom, and chaperone for school trips, I’ve observed CUSD students who have strong support systems which can provide support in managing high academic expectations as well as students who need more support to deal with the academic workload. Students have more on their plates today. It seems harder to get into the college of choice, competition is more intense, standards are higher and high schools are trying to meet college demands. While I support excellence in education and being your best, I also support balance and good mental health. I think it is important to help students make attainable goals, discuss academic expectations, provide the necessary resources for students to be successful and recognize that there are many career pathways available which include college, community colleges, state schools, and vocational schools.
LL: Half of all high school students have used marijuana products (CDC). Over 10% of California teens have reported using drugs in the past month (National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics). How do you plan to address alcohol and drug use amongst CUSD high school students?
GV: High school is a time of learning, growing and experimentation. While the reality is that there always has been and always will be drug use at high schools, we know that the potency of many drugs has increased. Helping students become more aware that early experimentation with drugs and alcohol can cause permanent brain damage is important. Addressing addictive behaviors and mental health issues surrounding the use of drugs is key to helping educate our educational community. I think when we improve the mental health of our students on our campuses, we will see drug usage decline. We need to do everything we can to provide informative, honest and accurate drug education with harm reduction strategies that keep all our students as safe as possible. When our students are lifted mentally and emotionally, and if we pursue campus drug education programs which help build trust in communication between students, staff and the community, I think this statistic will go down.
LL: What ideas do you have to ensure that all students feel safe and respected on campus?
GV: All students need to be able to access support and feel connected when at school. Emotional dynamics are different for each student. A learning climate that allows all students to participate and work with issues that are challenging to them is important to creating a safe and respectful environment. Not only do we want students to believe that their ideas are valued, but we want students to feel safe to express their ideas without threat of judgement or prejudice. I think that CUSD has made it a priority to establish an inclusive environment on campus where the community values diversity. To me, it all comes down to the culture we create on our campuses. This encompasses the entire community so it is important to have an open dialogue between students, parents and teachers regarding the safety of all students. When staff on campus and parents at home are focused on creating a campus culture that is united; safety, inclusion, mental health, and respect are all valuable byproducts.