Pioneer High School Takes Proactive Stance to Support Students’ Mental Well-Being : Opens Wellness Center on Campus
The number of teens, ages 13 to 17, experiencing some form of anxiety disorder has been steadily rising with seven in ten teens today saying they see anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers, according to a 2018 Pew Research Survey. Observing the rising needs in their own student population, students and staff at San José Unified School District’s (SJUSD) Pioneer High School decided to take a pro-active step toward providing students with mental health support by opening the district’s first of its kind Student Wellness Center directly on campus. The Pioneer Student Wellness Center opened on Wed. Aug. 14, 2019 and has seen a steady increase in usage.
According to the 2018 Pew Survey, academics and school performance topped the list of pressures faced by teens, with 61% of teens expressing pressure to produce good grades and excel in their studies. Administrators at Pioneer High School noticed the increase in concerns from their students; concerns substantiated during a student led exercise held last year when students expressed a desire for additional support for mental health issues. To address this need, student leaders and several teachers applied for and received a grant from the LEA Medi-Cal reimbursement fund for $49,000 to create a wellness center at the school. Over the summer of 2019, the two groups worked together to create a welcoming space for students to access should they feel anxious or depressed. The new Student Wellness Center offers a quiet and calming place of refuge during the school day and provides the teens a chance to learn and practice coping strategies to overcome such feelings. A mental health professional is also available should students need additional help.
Staffed each day with two staff members and a counselor available as needed, the school is hoping to provide support to students should they find themselves facing issues in such areas as stress and anxiety, bullying, family problems, depression, relationship issues, grief or start experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Students who feel the need to stop by the Student Wellness Center may do so by checking in any time between 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. They’ll have a 20-25-minute time frame to explore a variety of coping strategies (e.g. mindfulness exercises, meditative apps, self-affirmation cards, boundary setting exercises…). If the student does not feel comfortable returning to class, he or she may be referred to the on-site counselor for additional help. Support groups addressing stress and anxiety are also available and presented in six-week intervals. In addition, the school is working to create talking groups that relate to trends seen in mental health issues; providing extra support while bringing together students who may share a common struggle.
“We feel very fortunate to provide our students with this new center and hope other schools will be able to soon follow. By reaching out and offering our teens this opportunity to actively identify and address what might be bothering them or affecting them in some negative way, we hope to proactively address their mental health needs. The Student Wellness Center will help students learn coping skills that can help them throughout their lives, change the stigma of mental health and let them know it’s okay not to feel okay; that help is available and easily accessible. We want our students to learn to be their own best advocates; empowering them to be successful in anything they do by giving them the best strategies and the courage to ask for help if they need it. We want to be proactive rather than reactive,” stated Amy Hernandez, Wellness Coordinator for SJUSD Pioneer High School.