Mental health matters; Meet the Pack featuring Shaunna Pastuszak

Teacher with short brown hair smiling
Shaunna Pastuszak headshot

Shaunna Pastuszak is an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Sand Creek Middle School. She has been with the district for 20 years. Pastuszak was nominated twice for a Meet the Pack spotlight. Once by a thankful parent and another by a fellow staff member. 

Besides being an all-star teacher, Pastuszak is a huge advocate in the district for improving overall mental health. She works closely with social worker Nicole Kozilsky to help both students and staff improve their mental well-being through activities that bring everyone together. 

In 2016, a group of students came to Pastuszak because they wanted to create a more inclusive and accepting environment for students.  From that they started the safety pin committee.  This group of students delivered safety pins and spoke to homerooms throughout the school about treating others with dignity.  To them wearing a safety pin would show others that you were a person who accepted people for who they were without judgment.  

“This inspired me to be much more deliberate in my approach to mental health and wellness in the classroom,” Pastuszak said.  “My students needed to be seen and heard as whole beings, not just academics.  I have also had wonderful principals who have let me try all sorts of different wellness activities.”

As part of promoting wellness throughout the school, Pastuszak has run a lunchtime yoga program for eighth graders, a wellness experience week at the end of the school year for her social studies classes, began the safety pin committee, and launched Sand Creek’s pride club (GSA).  She and Kozilsky hold staff wellness events aimed to bring staff together and build meaningful connections among colleagues. They also created a Fri-YAY wellness schoolwide initiative that takes place on the last Friday of every month aimed to highlight and celebrate Sand Creek’s character trait for the month. 

“These clubs and experiences help me to connect with kids in a positive low-stress way.  Running these events fills up my cup so that I can be a better teacher,” stated Pastuszak. 

Taking on these roles was easy for Pastuszak as she has always been interested in mental health.  “How people relate to each other and the world is fascinating.  Knowing how the brain works and how to reflect on my thinking, that is gold for living my best life.”  

Pastuszak has practiced daily meditation since 2015, helping her handle stress in a productive way. This helps her better serve her students and peers. She said that the benefits of meditation weren’t immediate but are profound. “It is said that one mindful breath is a meditation. Simply breathing throughout the day helps me to make better decisions and be more present. If I am in crisis I can’t help others because I am in survival mode.”

Pastuszak credits her mindset to her first principal who showed her it’s okay to not be perfect.  “He said that if we get a big zit on our nose, that is okay because it shows the students that we are human too! His words were simple but have always stuck with me.”

When asked her favorite part of teaching Pastuszak said it was the variety of experiences she has throughout the day. She loves diversity in the classroom—depending on each class’s differing interests she likes to go deeper on certain curriculum topics. 

Teacher in her classroom giving a lesson
Pastuszak with her students

Pastuszak also runs the Sand Creek broadcast club. The club delivers the morning announcements to the school. When school went virtual during COVID, the members of the broadcast club taught themselves how to make and edit videos.  They began to send out the morning announcements by video each day.

They began the broadcast by saying, “I am happy to be here with you.” Pastuszak said, “Those words were carefully chosen to reassure the students that they were not alone even if the circumstances around them made them feel that way.  It makes me tear up when I think about it.” Since inception, the club has never missed a morning broadcast. 

The broadcast club learns about different careers in broadcasting.  This year they have had a zoom meet with Fly 92 DJ Ally Reid and received voice acting training from voice actress Monica Trabold.  

Pastuszak has a BA in American History from Russell Sage College, and she completed her Masters in Education from Boston College. When asked for a fun fact she told us that she has flown in a WWI biplane!