Kicking off the 2019-20 school year, William S. Hart Union High School District officials opened up Castaic High School and two district Wellness Centers Tuesday.
Castaic High School opened to its first freshman class after decades of anticipation, and the Wellness Centers located at West Ranch High School and Canyon High School have been a part of the district’s push for mental health awareness on campuses over the last two years.
Castaic High opened to approximately 330 ninth grade students whose 2023 class is set to be the first graduating Coyote class in history. Officials said that, including the 330 students at Castaic, close to 23,000 students were also heading back to school across the district Tuesday.
“I welcomed the first student on to campus this morning,” said Linda Storli, a Hart District governing board member. “It’s amazing considering how four years ago there was nothing but dirt, and now we have this.”
In terms of classroom space, close to one dozen teachers will work with a dedicated math and science building, a 400-seat performing arts center, more than 800 on-site parking stalls and more than 250,000 square feet of space.
From classroom sizes to the availability of advanced placement class spots, parents said they were confident that the district would provide for their students.
However, one concern that parents at a handful of district schools expressed was the issue of bullying, a topic that ties into the district’s major push this year of social-emotional wellness across the district.
“It’s a huge deal for me, because my son is black and I am not,” said Alyssa Williams, a parent at Castaic High School. “And I have had to go to school to set things straight…And I think there’s a line between bullying and just being kids.”
“I know they’ve been pushing anti-bullying and things like that,” said Tammy, a mother who declined to give her last name, but had just dropped off her child at Castaic High School. “But, I don’t think we’re going to have a problem with that.”
Bullying, as well as other social-emotional issues such as anxiety, depression and relationships, are all part of the district’s attempt this year to educate “the whole student,” and in terms of the Wellness Centers, Storli said the idea had been practiced already at Academy of the Canyons, and was seeing success.
“This is the first year for the district where (wellness) is an ultimate priority,” said AOC Principal Pete Getz. “But we’re kind of unique here, because we’re smaller … and we’ve had a wellness room on campus for going on three years now.”
Getz said that student social-emotional wellness is a part of educating the whole student, and that after he and his staff had committed themselves to pursuing emotional health among their peers, they wanted to give the students a similar opportunity. The idea of working on a variety of mental health topics eventually became student-driven at AOC, as well as a template for what would be used across the district going into this year.
“They’re on the internet all the time and their phones, and they see so much,” said Christy Alben, president of the Parent Advisory Council at West Ranch High School. “And we, as parents, we didn’t have to deal with that while growing up, and I think we as parents are looking to the district for guidance and how to guide those issues.”
Alben said she thinks parents realize that getting into college or planning out life after high school is a challenging time for young students, but that also there are a number of issues kids might not feel comfortable talking with their parents or friends about, and the Wellness Centers can help with that.
In terms of quality of teaching, Alben said she believes in the quality of the district’s teachers and that another popular concern raised by parents in public schools, safety, is not a concern of hers.
In addition to the Wellness Centers on district campuses, the district rolled out its Wellness Wheel last year — a website that grants anonymity and provides information on the district resources available to students and families within the district, as it relates to a chosen topic.
“I can see where the Wellness Centers could be abused, ‘I don’t want to take the test, I want to go to the Wellness Center,’ but I don’t think that’s going to happen very often,” said Storli. “And once we get them up all through the schools, it’s going to be wonderful.”