By Ingrid Lackey-Howell, intern reporter
On December 3, the new Wellness Center at Harwood Union High School opened its doors. The Wellness Center is a space for students to go during class if they are feeling overwhelmed or unproductive and need a break. It was supposed to open last year, but the opening was pushed back after school closed due to the coronavirus.
The Wellness Center is located in between the front office and cafeteria, near the front doors. Some might know the space as the old Senior Cafe, where seniors used to have their own space to eat lunch and hang out during free blocks. As a Wellness Center, however, the space has a new purpose. “It’s a safe place for students to come who are struggling socially or emotionally,” said Jen Dreimiller, the Wellness Center counselor.
There are many calming, grounding activities to do in the center. For example, there are yoga mats, meditation books to read, art supplies and many more activities. The room is decorated with a tapestry, comfortable chairs, booths, a mini Zen garden and a fountain. There is also tea available. Dreimiller is in the center the most, helping students find ways to relax or talk if they need it. Students can spend up to 15 minutes in the center. When signing in, students have the option to talk with Drimiller or, if needed, talk with their own school counselor.
“It’s really fun for me to continue to help students throughout their career and not just in middle school. This just seemed like a perfect fit, helping students learn how to regulate their emotions, take breaks from class and sort of do a mental reset,” Dreimiller said.
Although Dreimiller is in the center the most, Tara Cariano, now the Wellness Center consultant, started the project years ago. “In the 2018/19 school year, I took a fellowship through the Rowland Foundation and it was about looking at ways to integrate social and emotional learning and student wellness into the school to proactively support students and staff.
“From that, the research led me to look at a number of schools in California,” she said. In January of 2019, Cariano and a group of students and teachers went to California. They visited the San Francisco Unified School District which has a wellness center at every school.
“After the Columbine shooting, there were some federal grants and funding available to make schools safer, and they used that funding to create wellness centers rather than putting up metal detectors. So, they tried to take a different more holistic approach,” Cariano explained.
Harwood’s Wellness Center is not a carbon copy of the centers in the San Francisco schools. In the San Francisco Unified School District, the centers contain the school nurse's office, school-based clinicians and other resources for support outside of school.
The loss of the Senior Cafe has not gone unnoticed amongst other upperclassmen. Senior Eamon Castles explained his concerns about the Wellness Center saying “I’m of the opinion that the Senior Cafe would be far more beneficial to the student body of the Harwood population than a Wellness Center that would inevitably be used for students to skip class rather than mentally refresh.”
Sarah Bartolomei, a senior, was one of the students who went to San Francisco. She has been working with Cariano on the center since her sophomore year. “Personally, I think the space looks great and I’m really happy with how it's turned out, but I think we need to do some more outreach to the student body and adapt it to suit their needs,” she said.