Changes for the mind: Ann Richards begins changes to address mental health


Briana Castaño working in her office. Photo by Alyssa Cerda.

The Ann Richards School is known for its rigorous course work and high academic standards, however students struggle with stress under the high expectations for their performance at school. Throughout the first semester, administration has taken different approaches to ensure the best mental health for all their students. One of these approaches was seeking student input on stress levels and enacting a school-wide policy of a homework-free weekend once every six weeks.


Last year, freshman Keji Jurkin looked at different issues that affected the Ann Richards student body and noticed through school wide surveys that many students were stressed from having an abundance of projects at the same time. She then decided to look at different school calendars in the AISD district. This was when she found that some schools had one no-homework day per month.


“I was like, ‘hey, what if we had, like, a break,’“ Jurkin (9) said. “And then this year I pitched it to Linderberg, who pitched it to Castano, who pitched it further to make it a thing.”


Jurkin had many things to gain from this idea personally. It would help alleviate stress on her shoulders, but her personal mindset was not her priority.


“I always want to make sure that they [students] are doing their best, and that they are doing well,” Jurkin said.


After the idea was brought to the school’s administration team, it was automatically taken into serious consideration.


“I love it when our students take initiative like that,” Ann Richards principal Ms. Kristina Waugh said. “I love it when they make really educated proposals for us to take a look at and I think it’s really important for us to hear our customers voice, and you guys are our customer, so we need to listen to what’s going on.”


The principal stated that the faculty took this proposal seriously from the start by gathering the together and looking at how much homework they actually give to make sure it wasn’t just a time management issue. Through this change, the priorities of the staff has become clearer.


“I’m hoping that you get to relax and enjoy your life,” Waugh said. “Because I want you to do other things besides just school work. I also hope that you have an opportunity to get caught up.”


In addition to homework-free weekends, the school has started bringing mindfulness into the classroom. Some classes take a short break from the usual class work time to remind students to breathe, and be aware of their surroundings. These short breaks can include walking outside, taking a moment of silence, or any activity students would like to do led by a student.


“There’s a lot of stress, and you’re not always fully equipped to deal with it at any age as a child,” Special Education teacher Mr. Travis Ward said. “Having things where we intentionally, even as the adults, try to find ways to process through that, to back away from things that are stressing us, to be able to refocus, whether it’s physically, mentally or emotionally, I love it. Even though it’s not perfect and some people are still trying to figure out if it works for them, it’s good that it’s out there and it’s a real thing that people are talking about.”


Further than just policies for the classroom, administrative staff are trying to work on turning student ideas into reality.


“I hope it shows students that we are listening to what they have to say,” Ann Richards assistant principal Ms. Briana Castano, said. “We are trying to find ways to incorporate their [students] ideas into their school lives.”