By Zoe London
Volume 69, Issue I
Most people at Briarcliff High School are aware of the demands placed on students of all grades; the need for competitive portfolios, full schedules, and success can put a strain on students who are trying to balance everything in hopes of staying productive. The initiative for a wellness center to be constructed in the high school now represents the administration’s acknowledgement and understanding of the challenges students face and their commitment to helping students cope. The original idea was formed three years ago as Principal Debora French described that “we, as a faculty, thought we needed to be better trained in mental health.” She then, with school clinicians, took a course through Westchester Jewish Community Services that taught about the implementation of mental health education in high schools, and this course signified the beginnings of the wellness center that will now be found in just a couple weeks.
“We see the stressors as a faculty—it doesn’t matter where you are in the school,” noted Mrs. French, and her belief that you can’t be ready to accept academic knowledge without emotional well-being prompted her to carry out the wellness plan. As the administration noticed the additions in Todd and the middle school that allow for a more mindful environment (Mindful Garden and Wellness Center respectively), they are addressing the need for a similar implementation in the high school where stress culture is even more present. Mrs. French discussed the importance that no student gets overlooked to be left alone in his or her thoughts— “I knew I needed to find a space where a clinician can be available to talk through things.”
The attention to students’ well-being isn’t just a Briarcliff-run initiative; New York State has recently recognized that the consideration of mental health must be included in educational practices and not just within health class, and the addition of a center for just this purpose can achieve this goal. The center will be on the opposite side of the wall of the college conference room, and it’s planned to serve multiple purposes. Whether students need to use the private space of the center with a clinician for counseling or just want to spend time decompressing, “it’s a comfortable place where both of those conditions can be addressed,” explains French.
Understanding the importance of sensitivity and privacy concerning mental health, Mrs. French ensures the center includes an area for confidentiality as well as another side that is still accessible for more casual but still important uses like relaxation. Since the high school is such a small, close community, Mrs. French acknowledges that this may have previously inhibited students from directly seeking a counselor, and instead, the wellness suite will be a well-thought out, multi-functional area where help is offered in a more informal setting. With a clinician acting as both a counselor and an assistant principal, and its accessibility to students any time throughout their day, the center is offering quick assessment and efficient problem solving that goes beyond a visit to the nurse’s office. Because of the pressing need to address the stress culture in the high school, the center will be up and running by the end of October to act as a predictable and reliable space for the student body who can definitely find space for some added wellness in their lives.