San Marino High School, home of the Titans, opened the Titan Wellness Center on campus in 2019. On the face of it, it may seem like any other student union where homework is finished, kids research on computers, and just hang out. More than a typical student lounge or a career center, the Titan Wellness Center has a specific focus: ensure the students are thriving and safe.
When Principal Dr. Issaic Gates explained this lofty goal, he pointed out that the stress of academics can have a serious effect on the mental health of students, which affects student physical health and the rates of absenteeism. The Center was created to be a safe environment for students to get the resources they need to help themselves and help others.
Dr. Gates described the spectrum of wellness for students (which also applies to adults) as green, yellow, orange, and red—green being a thriving student and red being a student in crisis. Many students can begin to see themselves as just their GPA, bringing more anxiety and stress on themselves to an unhealthy level. The Center’s programs are in place to keep students in the green. “A healthy learner can learn anything,” he said. After all, the students are there to learn, not just get a grade.
More Than Just a Room
According to Dr. Gates, the two most important aspects of this project were doing the research, and the support of the School Board.
A steering committee, established by the School Board, visited existing wellness centers at other regional schools and colleges. They investigated the viability of creating a wellness center on San Marino High School’s campus. Funding, resources, types of programs, and staffing were all researched. The committee was made up not only of staff and administrators, but of students and members of the PTSA. It was an all-around community effort.
The steering committee decided that something larger than just a wellness center was needed. They proposed a district-wide wellness initiative, spanning all grade levels, with the purpose of creating “a comprehensive, integrated approach to mental health.” The School Board agreed and adopted the initiative, along with the proposed center.
Funding and Building the Center
The great support from the School Board, including the district-wide wellness initiative, meant it was time to build the center. A space was already available on campus, and needed to be remodeled. Funds were made available by the San Marino Schools Foundation and the Partnership for Awareness Organization community group, as well as individual donations—including some members of the School Board themselves. Getting the local community involved was especially gratifying. As Dr. Gates said, the “community saw the need, and made it happen.” And it wasn’t only funds—volunteers lent their expertise in the form of design work.
Students Helping Students
With the goal of thriving and safe students, there are a variety of programs, resources, and activities at the Center. Students lead conversations about the stresses of life: upcoming finals, dating, college admissions, social media, and everything in-between. Other programs include Wellness Wednesdays, stress relief workshops near finals, emotional wellbeing and mindfulness classes, suicide prevention awareness events, and coordination of a mentoring program for incoming freshmen. Workshops are held on anxiety during testing. Yoga classes, kindness and gratitude promotions, and other student lead events are an integral part of the Center.
San Mariano High School students are taking advantage of the Center, but perhaps in ways you may not think. Many, if not the majority, are there to support others, be that other students, family, or friends. It isn’t just a suicide prevention center, but a safe place where professionals interact with the students, getting them the resources needed to stay well balanced.
Students were involved in the entire process—from the beginning with the steering committee, and now with daily activities. A special student committee provides feedback to the steering committee on the successes and ways to improve the Center to achieve the overall goal: having well-balanced learners.
Wellness Center, Wellness Mentality
Reducing student stress also reduces absenteeism, keeping costs down in the form of average daily attendance revenues. Creating the physical space for the Titan Wellness Center was the project, but a greater positive outcome was bringing the concept of student wellness to the forefront of people’s minds. Healthy, learning students. Reducing the stresses of life. Giving students the skills to manage stresses now and as adults. All of these went hand-in-hand with building the physical space, and continues to be the greatest achievement.
San Marino Unified School District (as a Member of West San Gabriel Liability and Property JPA) received the 2019 EIA EAGLE Award for the Titan Wellness Center project in the category of Excellence in Education Agencies Risk Management Practices.