Jennifer Fornal (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?
Jennifer Fornal: Yes! Students’ mental health is a critical part of creating healthy learning environments, and it is important for ALL students to know about and have access to the mental health resources CHS provides. I want to make sure our schools continue to provide an array of mental health services to students. CHS has a dedicated team of counselors available to support our students along with caring teachers and administrators. In addition to expanding the Counseling Department, which is widely known to many students and families, CHS supports student well-being and mental health by offering: regular advisory periods, wellness classes, caring adults trained to recognize students in crisis and needing support, and teachers volunteering to host safe spaces on campus. CUSD schools use a new tool, which anonymously surveys students to get real-time data about how students are doing. I hope students use this tool because this information helps inform decisions about resources and support.
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?
JF: Figuring out the ratio of teachers to students across subject matters is a complicated puzzle, which the District figures out each year based on enrollment, resources, and staffing. As a School Board Member, I want to make sure we are supporting our schools to do everything we can to optimize student learning, including keeping class sizes low and providing our teachers with the resources they need to create healthy learning environments where students feel safe and challenged. I think it is critical to hear from students about their experiences in various class sizes, and the Board should make sure schools are striking the right balance of class size and campus life to promote healthy, engaging learning spaces.
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?
JF: I trust teachers to present material and ideas in their classrooms that they and school administrators deem relevant and to promote students’ mastery of academic subject matter and understanding of the world around them. Access to diverse and inclusive curriculum and facts, and teaching students the skills they need to assess the credibility of sources, draw conclusions, and make up their minds, is essential to prepare students to live in an ever-changing world. Banning books in the classroom and school libraries can have unintended consequences for CHS students enrolled in AP Classes or concurrently enrolled in courses for college credit as these are considered core portions of the curriculum required to receive credit. As a School Board member, I will work to ensure students have continued access to a diverse and inclusive curriculum.
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?
JF: I believe having high expectations for academic achievement, along with the resources and support necessary to meet them, are important for ALL students! But one size does not fit all. And the pressure students feel to perform at a high level and complete more work faster is real. I am interested to learn more from students about the challenges they face in meeting these high expectations and how teachers monitor student workload across classes. A key life and self-care skill is maintaining a work-life balance. Some of the mental health resources at CHS can help students work on the skills needed to strike this balance. As a Board Member, I would like to address the mounting pressure students feel to meet these high expectations while making sure students are prepared to graduate and find their path to success.
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?
JF: This is an area of concern that I talk about with my own kids. I believe CHS has a role in educating teenagers about the impact of drug and alcohol use on a teenage brain, why high school students are more susceptible to becoming addicted, and the potential for long-term impacts. Promoting healthy and safe learning environments includes giving students the knowledge and tools to avoid unhealthy behaviors. As a Board Member, I would make sure our schools continue to provide families and students with the tools and mental health resources they need to prevent drug and alcohol use and address issues of addiction among CHS students. Parents appreciate the expertise Parent University shares for how to talk with their kids about these issues. CHS should also continue to promote healthy alternatives for students – school dances, activities, clubs, volunteer opportunities, and sports and academic teams.
LL: What ideas do you have to ensure that all students feel safe and respected on campus?
JF: Creating a campus where students feel safe, cared for, and respected is possible. First and foremost, students need to feel physically safe. CUSD has worked hard to ensure campuses are constructed to protect students from outside threats – gates, fences, cameras, check-in systems, etc. CUSD has also equipped teachers and staff with the knowledge and tools to monitor student mental health to prevent harm to themselves and others. The “See Something, Say Something” policy has been an effective way for students to report concerns. Empathy and knowledge are also powerful tools for helping students feel safe and respected on campus. Every person has a unique life story. Students who are in a vulnerable stage in their life should have access to caring adults and other students and safe spaces to receive support. Affinity clubs and groups on campus are one-way students can feel connected. I will continue to support those opportunities.