“Wellbeing can no longer be seen as an ancillary activity in our schools.”

Taylor Walsh
4 min readMay 30, 2022


The April New York Times series on child and adolescent mental health is thorough, compelling, and a demoralizingly familiar account of the deterioration in children’s mental health that was addressed last fall in the declaration of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

As a result, major national non-profits and federal agencies are re-configuring programs in public, community, and school health programs that will attempt to redress the COVID-driven conditions that have worsened the emergency declared by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association.

But will their response match the scale of the problem? Will it embrace all the available tools? As the Times series and others have pointed out, the existing shortfall of school psychologists is overwhelming. And scheduling an appointment with independent psychiatric practices can take months.

In Plain Sight

As is often the case, collective responses to major problems can consolidate around tried-and-true methods and actions developed by well-established centers of expertise and trusted institutions. This logical response can bring together massive resources. But it can also obscure solutions that may in fact already be sitting there, in plain sight.

In plain sight right now in and around the nation’s schoolyards is an array of historically “nice-to-have” supplemental activities: school gardens, teaching kitchens, mindfulness programs, cognition-bolstering PE, and most notably nature education: in the wake of COVID, outdoor learning has brought to light the well-established evidence that time in nature supports good health: from a tent and green space on school property, to the city park across town, or in New England where kindergarteners spend an entire day a week outside.

What is not yet in plain sight, but has to be, are the beneficial multi-level health, academic, and behavioral outcomes that students (and faculty) have experienced when spending time in these programs. That experience is inherently collaborative, hands on, engaged, supported, and creative: activities that tap multiple learning capacities that when fully realized create the whole health learning experience.

Long-standing research in each of those fields shows positive effects not only on academic outcomes, but on mental, emotional, and behavioral health. These often-compelling outcomes have yet to be viewed in a coherent way, or really to reflect that they share the same subject: the child at school. This is beginning to change as important national institutions like the NIH and CDC seek to embed true prevention, health promotion and whole health in research and programs.


As a comprehensive, sustained learning experience, this approach presents a new and equitable macro solution that is preventive in the true meaning of the word: to help prevent the antecedents of ill-health and serious depression from forming in the first place or worsening during school years. It fairly addresses the effects of negative social determinants through a very different health care approach that recognizes we are not going to solve this crisis through diagnosis and treatment of one child at a time. [1]

Importantly, a preventive capacity to bolster the mental health of many children together resides in every community where all children are already educated: the school system. In other words: In plain sight.

In early April, in the fortunate expanse of Montgomery County, Maryland, home of the NIH and other federal health agencies, a non-fatal shooting at a local high school spurred the school board to add funds for school security and psychiatric services. It also spurred a senior school executive to observe:

“Wellbeing can no longer be seen as an ancillary activity in our schools.”

The school garden, nature ed, and other collaborative activities, with social and emotional learning and whole child school practices are all collectively reshaping the focus of schools, in order to prepare children for life in this most difficult century. The outcomes from this work strongly urge the Montgomery County executive and his peers around the nation that it is time to put the well-being of each child at the center of their work. We put it this way:

Strengthening children’s well-being and resilience during their years of formal education has become a critical, equitable, and sustainable strategy urgently needed to mitigate the deterioration of adolescent mental health.

Tools, methods, and expertise as it happens, well-established over decades, are readily available to help. Right there, in plain sight.

[1] — This paragraph filled with the deep experience of my partner at WholeHealthED, Larry Rosen MD, who has been working with whole kids every day at his Whole Child Center in northern NJ.



Taylor Walsh

Founder and Director, the Center for Whole Health Learning in K-12. WholeHealthED.org: Well-being and resilience skills now as essential as language and math.