Wellness Center opens for Sonoma Valley High, Creekside students – Sonoma Index-Tribune

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Facing a growing need to provide mental health services for students, Sonoma Valley Unified School District has opened a Wellness Center that will aid students at Sonoma Valley and Creekside high schools.
The Wellness Center, located in the same building as the library and College and Career Center at SVHS, opened with a soft launch on Aug. 15, the first day of school, and looks to become fully operational in January.
“Daily drop-ins and assessments for referrals to on-site clinicians, who are beginning this week, already have begun, which is really exciting, since it means more access to services for our students,” said Camille Garcia, a district social worker who oversees the center with support from site and district administrators.
Three therapists are available to students five days per week, providing brief intervention in both individual and group modalities. In addition to mental health services, the Wellness Center offers students opportunities to talk to a trusted adult; have a safe space to practice coping, regulation and self-care skills and/or learn a new prosocial self-care activity; access medically accurate health and wellness information; and connect to services and resources on and off campus.
“Though only a month has passed since the Wellness Center opened its doors, there is already a positive, supportive environment being shaped,” said Jillian Beall, director of the school district’s Supportive, Achievement-Based and Flexible Environment (SAFE) grant.
A SVHS student who asked not to be identified praised the center, saying, “The Wellness Center helps because there are so many students struggling right now and they don’t know how to get help or are afraid to feel vulnerable. The Wellness Center gives visibility and an opportunity for students to talk and learn more about mental health.”
Mariana Madrigal, a full-time bilingual community liaison, welcomes and supports students at the center and makes sure they get connected to the appropriate type of care. She says that working at the center gives her the opportunity to let students know that “there is always someone available for them to trust and feel heard by.”
The center is also offering campus-wide programs and initiatives outside of the physical structure.
“We just started Wellness Wednesdays once a month at lunch,” Garcia said. “On these days, our wellness staff push out into the school community to make presentations on different student-identified topics.”
The monthly topics will address student needs and be determined in collaboration with the school’s Wellness Youth Council, a group of eight student leaders that works with the SVHS and Creekside counseling and administration teams.
“Current services at the Wellness Center were selected by licensed clinical staff and administration partnerships after analyzing data from students and staff and voice from our Wellness Youth Council,” Beall said.
The council was created to address student requests.
“We heard students communicate that they would like to have a voice regarding mental health in our school and community,” Garcia said. “The Wellness Youth Council is a diverse group that meets monthly to advise and collaborate with wellness staff to develop and ensure that programming is responsive to the needs of our students.”
The council created a vision statement to guide how the center will serve SVUSD’s student communities: “Students at SVHS feel as if they can access services on campuses that are safe, helpful and equitable. Students are supported by their peers and the adults on campus as they all prioritize and understand the importance of mental health and wellness.”
One of the council’s roles is to help design the space of the Wellness Center as it continues to take shape to ensure that it is student-centered and a welcoming environment for all students.
SVUSD intended to establish a wellness center at SVHS soon after the district was awarded the School Climate Transformation Grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2019. Building multitiered systems to support students’ social and emotional needs then became a main focus of another grant, the Supportive, Achievement-Based & Flexible Environments (SAFE) grant.
“However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in late winter 2020 caused us all to shift our focus to supporting students and families as we navigated our way through the early years of the pandemic together,” Beall said. “As we reopened our school campus doors for hybrid [learning] in spring 2021 and then fully in fall 2021, we eagerly welcomed back our students while also noticing the increased reports of feelings of anxiety and depression, as noted in Youth Truth surveys.”
Also, in October 2021, following months of pandemic disruption, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent health. It is clear that local youth are in need of support, with similar mental health programs launched recently at the Boys & Girls Club of Sonoma Valley and the Sonoma Valley Mental Health Collective at Hanna Boys Center.
“With all of these circumstances, we knew that our plan to launch a high school Wellness Center prior to the pandemic was even more pertinent to ensure support for our high school students and the overall school communities in the areas of mental health and student wellness,” Beall said.
Dr. Adrian Palazuelos, superintendent of SVUSD, has been pleased with the results.
“The Wellness Center provides our Creekside and Sonoma Valley High School students with access to high-quality care while on the high school campus,” he said. “I am proud of the efforts by our entire team to create this vibrant center of support to serve our students and look forward to positive outcomes for all those who make use of the services.”
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at [email protected].
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