Students are raising their voices about the things they believe are essential to their success in school and in life. And at the U.S. Department of Education, we are listening. In roundtable discussions and in town halls, through emails and letters, and during visits to K–12 schools across the country, three major themes have emerged. Many students have shared that—especially in the continued recovery from the pandemic—receiving mental health support is crucial. Students also have expressed that it’s important to them to attend schools that are nurturing, welcoming, and that value their unique backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. More and more, students are seeking pathways to postsecondary education—on-ramps to a college education or training and good guidance about how to get there.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona meets with students for a discussion on pathways to college and career opportunities. PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

One of the ways the department is responding to students’ needs and helping states, districts, and schools set young people up for success is through our “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” initiative. This plan represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize our nation’s education system. As part of that work, and stemming from our conversations with students, we’re partnering with state and local leaders to:

1. Recognize mental health as a key aspect of academic success.
2. Provide culturally responsive supports and resources to students.
3. Facilitate access to tools that support every student on the career path of their choice.

Mental Health as a Key to Academic Success

Now more than ever, it’s critical for school leaders, educators, and parents and families to support students’ mental health. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, since the pandemic began, one in three high school students have experienced poor mental health, one in six adolescents have experienced a major depressive episode, and 20% of teens have seriously considered suicide. In fact, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called a national mental health emergency among young people the “crisis of our time.” The research is clear: Children and youth who experience unaddressed mental health issues are more likely to face challenges in school. They are more likely to repeat a grade, experience chronic absenteeism, and drop out of school.

This is heartbreaking, but schools can be a great source of support for students. When schools offer access to mental health services, students are six times more likely to receive the interventions they need to thrive.

At the department, we know that when students have access to quality mental health supports, they are even more empowered to build the social, emotional, and behavioral skills necessary to succeed in school and in all areas of their lives. To meet students’ needs, we are helping to build school capacity by supporting existing school personnel and providing resources that will ensure 14,000 new mental health services professionals can work with students in schools across the country. We’re also providing resources to intentionally recruit and retain a diverse workforce of educators who understand that students’ academic journeys are impacted by their lived experiences. And we’re working to ensure schools in every state can access funding through Medicaid for school-based health services, including mental health services.

Culturally Responsive Supports and Resources

All students deserve to attend schools that are safe, inclusive, and supportive. And particularly amid the recovery from the pandemic, young people have expressed just how important positive school climates are to both their overall well-being and their academic performance. Research backs this up. Evidence shows that young people’s social, emotional, and academic development are interconnected, and that learning environments can be intentionally designed to support students’ personal and academic growth. When schools affirm students’ backgrounds, cultures, and home language, for example, they create welcoming environments where young people experience a strong sense of belonging, which is tied to a host of positive outcomes for youth—including increased academic achievement and more positive attitudes toward school.

Schools can foster welcoming environments for learning and culturally responsive approaches to serving students in several ways. For example, schools can consider:

  • Creating opportunities for authentic peer and educator engagement, rooted in respect for
    various cultures.
  • Ensuring that school informational materials are translated into the home languages spoken by students and families in the school community.
  • Building an infrastructure of support for English learners and multilingual students.
  • Supporting educators to draw and build upon students’ prior knowledge, experiences, and interests to make connections with what students are learning in the classroom.
  • Developing support groups for parents and families of students who will be first-generation college and university goers.
  • Providing students with clear ways to share their perspectives with school leaders and administrators regarding issues that impact their learning.

Unlocking Career Success

Young people also have expressed that the traditional high school experience needs to be reimagined so they are truly prepared to succeed in college, careers, and life. At the department, we are boldly investing in efforts to ensure that every student has access to strong postsecondary and career pathways.

One of the major ways we’re furthering this work is through our “Unlocking Career Success” initiative, a joint effort with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Energy, Transportation, and Commerce to transform how our nation’s high schools prepare all students to thrive in higher education and the jobs of today and tomorrow. This initiative includes four main evidence-based components:

  1. Dual enrollment: Providing students with the opportunity to earn college credit during
    high school.
  2. Work-based learning: Enabling students to gain early exposure to hands-on, real-world professional experiences.
  3. Workforce credentials: Helping students develop a competitive edge for their careers by earning their first industry-sought credential.
  4. Career advising and navigation: Supporting students in making informed decisions about life after high school.

School principals are already leading in these areas and are uniquely positioned to continue to raise the bar for the supports provided to students by working in close collaboration with parents and families, educators, communities, and students themselves. The department is a committed partner.

U.S. Department of Education Resources

For more information, see the list below and visit to learn more about our signature Raise the Bar initiative.

Lauren Mendoza is the deputy assistant secretary for outreach in the U.S. Department of Education.


Jaycox, L. H., Cohen, J. A., Mannarino, A. P., Walker, D. W., Langley, A. K., Gegenheimer, K. L., … Schonlau, M. (2010). Children’s mental health care following Hurricane Katrina: A field trial of trauma-focused psychotherapies. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 23(2), 223—335.

U.S. Department of Education. (2023, March). Guiding principles for creating safe, inclusive, supportive, and fair school climates.