For Northern Cass senior middle hitter Jenna Maker, she has dreams bigger than the volleyball court.
"I just want to fix the education system," she said.
It's something she's already started taking steps toward, beginning with her senior project.
"My capstone project for my senior year is exploring mental health in school and in school settings," said Maker.
It's thanks to a class Maker is currently in that pushed her down the path towards this subject.
"I'm in a social-emotional learning class at school - we call it 'SEL' - and that's kind of when my knowledge of mental health started," said Maker.
She said she's always been passionate about wanting to help people. An aspiring educator herself, she's set to attend Minnesota State University Moorhead next fall.
"I'm trying to to make the education system better for the learners now," she said. "And when I get there I'm going to try it then as well, so I guess it - I mean it's going to be an ongoing project my whole life."
According to a U.S. Surgeon General report, one in five children and adolescents will face a significant mental health condition during their school years. Though Maker is new to the subject and topic of mental health in school, it's quickly become something deeply important to her.
"It matters a huge amount," she said. "It matters so much, because when kids, and even adults, are not healthy mentally, it makes their lives so much more difficult."
The National Association of Secondary School Principals says with increased accountability under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and subsequent regulations, school counselors - who represent the majority of student support professionals in schools - have seen their responsibilities shift away from the overall personal, social, emotional, academic, and career development of each student toward an academic achievement-only focus, creating a rapidly widening gap in support services.
"I feel like that's where the disconnect is; when we don't understand what's going on in the background then they're not gonna know what we need them to know...or want them to know," Maker said. "School is so much more than learning the content. It's about, growing socially, growing emotionally, figuring out who you are; and when you've got all that mental struggle, that mental barrier of a mental health issue, of a mental illness, it makes those things a thousand times harder."
Throughout the process of her project, Maker says she's even learned quite a bit about herself.
"I've learned that I am an incredible introvert, so interviews and things like this gets me really nervous. I am very introverted and I care a lot about learning, which I guess makes sense, considering I want to be an educator and I want others to care about learning as well," she reflected. "Learning about anything and everything I can when I can, it's a huge passion of mine."
The senior's project will focus on Northern Cass High School, but there's another part of her project that draws attention.
"I plan on writing a book about mental health in Northern Cass in hopes to educate other educators out there in the world about, there might be a disconnect with you and your learners and potentially how to solve it," she said.
The idea to write a book has always been on Maker's bucket list, but the idea to write it about the same topic as her capstone project just came to her.
"I was like, 'Welp, I've got this project in this hand and this weird goal of mine and was just like, you know what, we'll put 'em together,'" Maker said.
The message the senior hopes her project and book conveys is simple.
"The message that I hope to convey is that mental health is so important. Especially in young adults and teenagers," she said. "And these kids, who we call our future - but their futures are stunted if they don't know themselves."
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health illness and are seeking help, you can contact the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727).