Date of Award

Summer 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Elizabeth Currin


This study emerged in response to broader trends of increasing anxiety among schoolchildren and my own observations as a teacher. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for youth (Curtin et al., 2022), and anxiety is a known factor in most deaths by suicide (Nepon et al., 2010). Teachers are often the first point of contact for anxious students, but a shortage of counselors in U.S. schools and other systemic barriers prevent widespread access to counseling services (Cratty, 2019). Moreover, identity-based anxieties are often misattributed to aggression or attention-seeking, and punished in school settings, instead of recognized and supported (Harper & Fergus, 2017).

To support my students, particularly those in the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities, I combined Cavioni et al.’s (2020) framework for mental health promotion in schools with the lenses of critical race theory and Queer theory and pedagogy. In this mixed-methods, participatory action research study, I examined whether the adoption of daily mental health routines, overt teaching of adapted mental health curriculum, and culturally sustaining curricular choices in safe spaces within my core classes would mitigate or decrease anxiety for my middle school students. Despite the confounding variables of preexisting environmental factors and unexpected community circumstances, results were promising and may inspire fellow teachers to undertake similar interventions. Further, I draw on improvement science (Hinnant-Crawford, 2020) to articulate how to refine my approach to continue the work of decreasing student anxiety with even more success.


© 2023, Erin Hawley Cronin