Hazen Introduces New Methods


Hope Oswald, Writer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens. Rates of mental illness such as depression and anxiety in young people have been increasing in recent years, with 1 in 6 children and teens now facing a diagnosed mental illness. Many schools and teachers are trying to focus on mental health because of these rising numbers, and help those of the student body who are dealing with mental illness. However, with the sensitivity of this topic, some teachers find conversations about mental health too difficult and can’t find a way to approach it correctly, choosing to ignore it instead.

Washburn Rural High School English teacher Sarah Hazen has chosen to take a much more hands-on approach to mental health in her classroom. Her classroom is covered in inspirational quotes and fairy lights, with relaxing music always playing softly in the background. Hazen’s room is designed to be a calming place for her students. Throughout her teaching approach, from the classroom to her interactions with students, Hazen takes a clear focus on the mental health and wellbeing for her students.

When Hazen first began teaching, she quickly saw the issues facing her students.

“I noticed a number of students coming into my classroom overwhelmed or stressed out about the many things teenagers have to deal with these days,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that I am caring for their wellbeing and mental health so that they are able to do their best in my classroom – I believe students will perform stronger for me if I am able to support their needs.”

Hazen began to do small and simple things around her classroom to help her students feel more at home.

“I have buckets in the center of my tables to provide tools kids will need for class,” she said. “Many of my kids like the low lighting and calming projections on my smartboard to make it seem more like a home to them. I have created a space that is welcoming and inviting for kids.”

Hazen has also tried to foster a social experience with her students, and to form personal connections with them.

“I think spending those extra minutes to just have a conversation with a student about what interests them, or checking in on how they are doing are great ways to form a connection with students,” she said. 

Hazen makes sure to say little statements to students every day, from “good morning” to “have a great day,” or “let me know if I can support you.” She wants to be sure that her students hear things like this on a regular basis.

“While these are small statements,”  Hazen said, “I believe they can be powerful for some kids to hear daily. It is important to me to make people feel like they are special.”

These methods turn Hazen’s classroom into a comfortable, cozy place that can feel like a home for some students. Her work has made school a place students look forward to going to, rather than a place to dread. 

Many teachers struggle to find a relationship like this with their students. One of Hazen’s priorities is to help teachers who are having problems supporting kids in these areas. She offers advice for these teachers.

“Create a welcoming environment for kids. Let students teach you about what interests them to build relationships. Give options and choices to allow kids to feel like their voice matters. Find the positives in situations and people. Celebrate the big and small successes.”

Hazen wants to teach her students about more than English, and have them take away life skills from her class.

“When students leave my class I want them to be able to make good choices, be good human beings and support others. We should encourage each other and build each other up.”

Ultimately, Hazen has found through these strategies that she has built strong and lasting relationships with each of her students. Many students and teachers have found that they were helped by Hazen’s work toward a more stress-free high school experience.

“I think trying to keep it positive has built a family-like environment with each class that I have throughout the day,” she said. “Students feel like they belong, and that’s huge for kids.”