“I know what it is like to walk into your classroom at age 14 to find your classmate is gone,” Katie Causey said. “And then the next month another, then the next month another.”
Student mental health and well-being is the “No. 1 priority” for Palo Alto Board of Education candidate Causey, she said. Causey attended Palo Alto High School during a string of devastating suicides in the district, prompting her focus on student wellness. Over the past decade, she has volunteered extensively with the Junior League of San Francisco, a women’s volunteer organization, and other nonprofits across the Bay Area.
Wellness centers and social emotional curriculum shared through advisory programs at Paly and Gunn are a positive step towards fostering a healthy environment for students, according to Causey — however, she said these implementations should not be “just a box we check.”
“I want it [student wellness] to be integrated and thorough,” Causey said. “That is going to look like having a lot of conversations with educators and students to make sure what we’re teaching is effective.”
Causey’s campaign is centered on student empowerment — at its core, student well-being is founded by students feeling in control, Causey said. She aims to incorporate student feedback to build on SEL programs and form official student board correspondence committees to further “amplify student voices.”
“One of the things that I’m constantly keeping in mind as a board member is that your first constituency, your primary constituency, is your students,” Causey said.
According to Causey, many prevalent issues among teens, such as vaping, stem from mental health instability and feelings of isolation. Substance use was the academic subject Causey concentrated on for her additional year of college at George Washington University after majoring in Women’s Studies with a focus on “creating intersectional solutions in schools and communities.” Causey hopes to leverage her knowledge to help students “transition to healthy coping mechanisms.”
“When somebody is really isolated, they are more likely to rely on substances,” Causey said. “We know that if a student has five healthy adult relationships with adults they really trust, they’re more likely to be safe and healthy. And I think taking actions to promote building those trusted adult relationships keeps students held healthy, it keeps them safe.”
These sturdy adult relationships, she said, are indispensable for teens — one of the reasons why Causey’s student-centric platform will drive such connections through an alumni mentorship program. The network, Causey said, can be instrumental not only in nurturing bonds between students and alumni, but also as an avenue for job opportunities and a view into what the future holds.
“A more formal alumni group … could be a huge network for current students to build those professional connections early … to seek professional guidance and also to find jobs,” Causey said. “If it’s an alumnus that’s graduated in the last five years, that really helps students see themselves.”
Causey has been an ardent supporter of the Vote16 campaign to allow community members ages 16 and over to cast a ballot in city elections and influence the policies that govern their education.
“Civic engagement, learning about civic engagement — that’s such a way to help students feel more in control of the current situation,” Causey said.
As the first open member of the LGBTQ+ community to run for the school board, Causey said she hopes to lift up underrepresented students.
“At-risk students aren’t just a data point, and representation is more than just an image,” Causey said. “I know this because since declaring [candidacy for school board], every week, LGBT students have messaged me saying they’re happy to see someone like them.”
Overall, Causey looks to vitalize the school board with her personal experience in the district and community.
“I’ve spent half my life as a student in this district, and since I was a teenager have worked hands on to support our community,” Causey said. “That is what our district needs right now. And I’m here to help.”