Wielding a giant pair of scissors, organizers and supporters of a new wellness center at Silverado Middle School snipped a wide red ribbon, symbolically opening the new student resource.
Until now, students at only two local middle schools — Harvest and American Canyon — had access to on-campus wellness centers.
But thanks to centers opening this week at Silverado and Redwood Middle Schools, many more sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students will be able to access such care.
On Wednesday, the Napa Valley Education Foundation and the Napa Valley Unified School District hosted the ribbon cutting and tour of the new center at Silverado Middle School. It will be followed by the same presentation on Thursday at Redwood Middle School.
“Oh my gosh, it’s really nice,” said Lisa Basford, the administrative assistant at the Silverado wellness center. Before the opening, the center was a group of conference rooms, a storage area and other offices. After a renovation, “It has a whole new feel,” she said.
“It’s sort of a dream realized to have a space dedicated to health and wellness,” said Silverado Principal Jennifer Kohl. Silverado has an estimated 830 students, she said.
Those students now have a private, safe space to come for assistance, whether physical or mental.
Wellness Centers provide support to middle school students and their families, focusing on their health, well-being and academic success, said a news release from the NVUSD.
Each Wellness Center is staffed with a team composed of school counselors, a school social worker, a school psychologist and a school nurse, who help students and their families navigate complex issues such as stress, trauma, suicide, bullying, depression, self-esteem and relationships.
A Wellness Center is essentially two classrooms put together with added walls and doors to create private office spaces for counseling, nursing, as well as small and large conference rooms for group counseling, tutoring, clubs, and even restorative circles for supporting those who are conflict.
“It’s a wonderful, special thing we are trying to do,” said Lourdes Caravantes, Silverado wellness center counselor.
Jim Diel, Napa County mental health clinical director, spoke briefly to the crowd at the ribbon cutting.
“I appreciate the district taking the initiative to put these resources together in one place” to get better outcomes for students. “They’ve done a nice job with this.”
Philip Hoevker of Hoevker Building and Design constructed the center at Silverado Middle School. “It feels great” to see it open, he said.
Hoevker said it took a team of about 12 people two months to complete the renovation. He wanted to add his own contribution. He created a handmade, engraved wooden “Wellness Center” sign that is on display in the reception area.
“I love to give back however we can,” he said.
Silverado seventh-grade student Jonathan Cazares said he’s already visited the center. “I had a headache,” he said.
He gave it a thumbs-up. “The fact that they turned an empty room into the wellness center — and something we can use every day — is amazing,” he said.
Seventh-grader Carlos Rodriguez has also used the center when his foot was hurting earlier this week.
“It smells good in there,” like when you get new shoes, he said. “And the bathrooms are so clean.”
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“They don’t just help you for injuries,” added Cazares. “They help you with a lot of stuff.”
Jennifer Lewandowski of the Dry Creek Joint Elementary School district in Roseville attended the opening.
“We’ve been talking about student mental wellness” at her district, she said. “Students can’t learn when they’re dealing with the effects of trauma, whether physical or mental.”
Lewandowski and her colleagues traveled to Napa because “we wanted to see what components they brought in,” as well as the layout of the center.
Jeni Olsen of Village: Napa and Teens Connect, two Napa initiatives, said wellness centers can be a welcome refuge.
“We see high levels of stress even in middle school students,” said Olsen. A safe, secure place may be just what a student needs to take a break and reset his or her day.
In May 2015, the NVUSD received a federal counseling grant and was able to hire two full-time school social workers.
Their job was to help create collaborative teams called “wellness teams” of service providers who previously worked separately and often were spread into different corners of the school campus.
Many students were accessing services from an array of different providers “and very little communication was happening among them,” said Laura Mooiman, LCSW, of the NVUSD.
The district became interested in the wellness programs run in San Francisco Unified where physical health and mental health services were all delivered in a single location — a “one-stop shop” of sorts.
After visiting Mission High School and Everett Middle School in San Francisco, “we were inspired to try to create something similar in Napa,” Mooiman said.
The district began construction on the Wellness Centers at ACMS and Harvest in fall 2015 and opened them to students in March 2016.
The results were striking.
During the 2015-16 school year, wellness center staff at Harvest and ACMS screened 3,615 middle school students for mental and behavioral health concerns, statistics show.
In the first year, 330 students received mental health services through the Wellness Centers or partnering mental health organizations, said a news release.
A total of 95 percent of students at Harvest Middle School sought wellness center services.
Offering such care contributes to the reduction of student behavioral problems and emotional sources of stress while improving student health, well-being and academic success, said a news release.
The NVUSD has also been working with organizations such as Aldea and Mentis to bring more counseling support into schools.
There is no cost or fees for services in the middle school wellness centers. Paid for by a federal grant, NVUSD funding and community partners, services are free to students and available to all students who are referred and demonstrate need through our screening process.
The centers also include Spanish-speaking staff.