After a summer respite, La Cañada High School students will return today to resume their studies in a setting known for high achievement and expectations — conditions that can compound stress, as do social complications young people often experience.
No wonder, then, that student Riley Trowbridge sees the Wellness Center as a real need at LCHS.
The brand-new facility, which will provide a calm space with drop-in and crisis support for high schoolers and a self-care break area, is open daily from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
“I see kids who need to be somewhere when they’re in crisis and instead they just go to the bathroom,” said Trowbridge, 16, a junior. “I’ve had people just break down in the middle of class and there’s nowhere to go for them. And it definitely doesn’t help when they’re being watched by all these people going ‘What’s happening?’
“I think this school definitely needs a place like this where they can just go and be in solitude. They can go see the counselors and take that time for themselves. I think this is a really important thing.”
Trowbridge is trying to earn a Girl Scout Gold Award for her contributions to the LCHS Wellness Center that include providing publicity and a bowl with a live fish, intended to add to the center’s tranquility. Riley, a member of Troop 5991, is one of many people who have a strong interest in seeing the facility succeed.
Along with providing student support, the center offers a space for students to take a self-care break, eat lunch and participate in activities centered on monthly themes. Students can also get a consultation and find resources related to mental health and wellness.
“The Wellness Center at LCHS was designed as a student-centered space on campus where social-emotional services and supports will be provided,” said La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette. “In our mission to ensure that our rigorous academic programs meet the needs of every student, the Wellness Center’s offerings are designed to ensure that we are equipping each learner with the tools necessary to successfully navigate the complexities and demands of student life in a high-performing high school.”
Maria Videla-Juniel of the Art of Room Design, a La Cañada Flintridge firm, was responsible for the look and layout of the space, which previously was a part of the Information Resource Center and was used to keep old textbooks. Videla-Juniel, a district parent who is experienced in designing homes, said she wanted to give the space a residential feel.
“We wanted to give an impression that you’re not walking into just another spot in the school,” she said. “We were very lucky that we got the awesome space. … I think it was this place being so central to everything. It’s part of the IRC, where kids are already so comfortable going. I think that was really great.”
The Wellness Center has been in the works for two years, said Rachel Zooi, an intervention counselor who will be the facility’s coordinator and have her office there. Two years ago, the project was in the dreaming-and-researching phase, she said, and last year was the planning, contracting and construction period.
In February, the LCHS Spartan Boosters presented a $41,000 check to the school district for the center. A month later, the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation raised about $220,000 to support students’ social and emotional health through the center, an elementary social-emotional learning curriculum and other programs, materials and resources, Sinnette said. Construction costs for the center are currently at $93,000 and expenses for materials and furnishings have been $45,000, with final costs to be determined, she said.
Zooi said the center’s purpose had evolved from what was going to be a community space for kids.
“A lot of them needed some private spaces, too,” Zooi said. “We really worked that in.”
The area now has three counseling rooms as well as a multipurpose meeting room where Zooi’s office will be.
Also staffing the center will be Wellness Office worker Beth Mumper and Erica Smith, a therapist with Sage, an organization that provides comprehensive mental health services.
The area will feature a variety of materials such as self-help-style books on mental health, wellness, sleep and test anxiety, and relaxing items such as coloring books.
“Everybody has their own thing that helps them regulate and calm themselves down,” Zooi said. “So our job will be to help them find what that is. Many students already know they just need a place to be for a little bit.”
Videla-Juniel said she was able to use her Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts connection to get Dunn-Edwards paints and other items through trade accounts. Besides the paints’ hues, wallpaper added a special touch to the room.
“Every room has a slightly different personality because of the wallpaper,” she said. “Yellow is a color that denotes friendliness, green is hope, blue is calm and gray is a very soothing background.”
The hope is that the wallpaper, a mural, a multicolored “bubble wall” — tubes with rising bubbles and changing colors — and even a tepee-like pod for students to relax in will entice students to check out the center.
“Sometimes, the hardest part is just setting foot in here,” said Zooi, adding that a new peer support group program with trained students will help get the word out about the center and destigmatize any concerns over the center.
“A lot of feedback and research is that we need more social connection,” Zooi said. “A huge aspect of prevention and early identification of the people who are struggling is more connection. Students are saying they don’t have time to talk to each other. They don’t have time to have conversations or feel supported or talk to the trusted people they know on campus. We’re trying to build that in more.”
Cheryl Trowbridge, Riley’s mother, said her daughter had expressed concerns that students might not want to enter the center because their friends might see them and possibly negatively judge them. Trowbridge, an executive board member with the LCHS PTSA, said she believes youths will start to feel more comfortable with the center over time.
“I hope so,” Riley Trowbridge said. “I want that to happen.”
Zooi said students dropping into the center during the school day would be able to get a 15-minute pass from their teacher. At lunchtime, activities will go on.
“We know not everyone will come, but the programs and the symbol of it being here and the programs coming up here are intended to reach every student,” Zooi said. “For the ones that do drop in, it’s a way to teach self-care, self-regulation and to keep them at school. There are more and more wellness centers, not just across the state but across the country as we’ve seen the need go up.”
Sinnette added the center will be the home of many of the services and programs provided by the district’s peer support students.
“I am hoping to see the Wellness Center’s programs and services integrate seamlessly into the offerings and services provided at LCHS so that our students feel comfortable accessing the resources as needed to ensure their success and well-being,” she said.
For more information about the center, call (818) 952-4235 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.