Published May 25, 2021
By ALICIA KRUEGER
In an effort to promote and prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of students in the Carmel Unified School District, Carmel High and Carmel Middle School will open their doors to two new wellness centers equipped with a licensed life, marriage and family therapist, a social worker and a classified intake professional.
“A wellness center should feel like nothing else on campus,” CHS Principal Jonathon Lyons notes. “We will have a strata of people depending on what you, as the student, need. If you are just having one of those moments that we all get, but especially kids, you can go to the Wellness Center to find a space to decompress and have somebody check in on you.”
Social workers — Lauren Capano at CHS and a new hire at CMS — will be available to provide short-term support and resource connection tools; LMFTs will be available for regular therapy. The goal is to have most of each school’s wellness and mental health resources in one location.
At the high school, Portable B will be transitioned from the ASB classroom to the Wellness Center and will undergo a series of renovations, including refurbishment of the ceiling and floor, as well as installation of hyper-specific furniture to enable a relaxing and supportive environment. Similarly, at the middle school, Portable 1 and 2 will transition from a conference room and technology room to a wellness center space. CMS will dictate if only one or both portables will be used to accommodate COVID-19 regulations at the start of the 2021-22 school year.
The renovation and LMFT hiring processes will occur over the summer in order to meet the opening goal.
By adding additional support at CMS, the school will double its mental health, wellness and support programs. Currently, CMS is staffed with two county behavioral health counselors, whose caseloads are completely full, and two academic counselors.
“Saying ‘Well, we can put in a referral with the MCBH counselors and within the next few weeks someone will contact you’ is really hard to say to someone when they are going through a crisis,” says CMS principal Dan Morgan “We can give those students a list of local therapists, but even with our own MCBH counselors, it is so hard to get an appointment. So the wellness center really offers us the chance to expand and delineate services where they need to go. And now I’ll have a program or person for anyone who needs it.”
For about 10 years, CMS has offered a course called “Educational Opportunity” taught by teacher Jake Glazier. The course reaches out to students struggling with finding a connection to school, providing them with a mentor and positive reinforcements for doing well in class. Glazier meets with these students for their first and seventh periods and gives inspirational speeches, practices wellness, provides study hall time and has students exercise, allowing them to gain their physical education credits.
Although the course is offered to both male and female students, Morgan and staff have found that female students feel uncomfortable participating simply because the majority of the student population enrolled is male. In response, CMS English teacher Liz Wells offered to teach the same program for girls to offer a similar kind of mentorship unique to women’s issues.
“Glazier’s class is a family,” says Wells. “I want that for the females on our campus who need that type of support. I want our most struggling students to know that they have an adult who is rooting for them one-hundred percent of the time. Now, more than ever, we need to focus on the mental health of all of our students.”
In addition to the wellness center’s physical summer revamp, Lyons, Capano, principal’s secretary Lisa Fosler-Brazil and assistant principals Debbie Puente and Craig Tuana will be tasked with using information gathered from the District Wellness Committee to dictate how the services are structured, how to design universal screening questionnaires, how to train individuals involved and how to promote the center to both students and teachers as an accessible resource.
“A successful wellness center, first and foremost, is student-centered and addresses both logistical and practical issues,” explains Capano. “This means providing a physical space that promotes a safe and supportive environment coupled with practices and intervention strategies that are personalized and evidence-based while also offering preventative, early-intervention education, support and case management services. I do believe that through a supportive collaboration CHS will be able to make these things happen.”
On Friday, Lyons confirmed he will be moving forward with EQ Schools to work with the leadership team, teachers, staff and parents. The program is a year-long, embedded professional development program offering individual and group coaching, workshops, retreats and organizational assessments, all of which is tailored to meet the specific needs of CHS and designed to enable a culture of emotional intelligence and wellness.
“The whole other side of this coin is providing teacher and staff development geared towards recognizing cues from students which say, ‘I’m not okay,’” Lyons says. “You can have all the support services in the world, but if you are not training staff to recognize it in the classroom, you miss the point. This is about tiered intervention. Level one would be what goes on in a classroom and level two is additional support above and beyond that initial classroom support.”
According to Lyons, both centers will be initially funded through state and federal COVID-19 relief grants and will be sustained through a transition to the general funding plan. Details will be discussed at the next district school board meeting Wednesday.