Hart district hopes wellness centers increase feeling of safety, comfort on campuses

Nancy Philips, left, and Sarah Gilberts discuss their plans for starting Wellness Centers at West Ranch and Canyon High Schools at the William S. Hart Union School District Office in Santa Claritqa on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

While working on Hart District campuses as social workers, Nancy Phillips and Sarah Gilberts said they started to see an uptick in the students coming into visit them.

Whether it was from test anxiety, school phobia, bullying or depression, they both said they saw an increasing number of young people in distress and they wanted to do everything in their power to help them.

William S. Hart Union School District Director of Student Services Kathy Hunter talks about setting up Wellness Centers in the District at the William S. Hart Union School District Office in Santa Clarita on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“They’re both extremely passionate about what they’re doing,” said Kathy Hunter, the director of student support services at the district. “They have a great relationship with the kids and they’re go-getters.”

That’s why when the first two Hart District Wellness Centers open up at the end of September for the 2019-20 school year, Phillips will be the coordinator at the new West Ranch center, while Gilberts will be the coordinator for Canyon High‘s, and both will have the responsibility of not only opening up the pilot facilities, but building upon them, as well.

The journey to open up the wellness centers began two years ago when Superintendent Vicki Engbrecht and the district governing board saw the need for centers at high schools, after hearing about what on-site staff were reporting back about physical and mental health of campuses.

After hearing wellness presentations from each of the school principals over the course of last year, the district authorized the use of Title IV funds in order to create a “refuge” for students on campuses known simply as “wellness centers.”

“The center is going to be a place where you can take a breath,” said Phillips.

Nancy Philips talks about her plans for starting Wellness Center at West Ranch High School at the William S. Hart Union School District Office in Santa Clarita on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“And it’s not going to look anything like a classroom,” Gilberts added. “It’s going to look like a refuge … the whole space is going to be a welcoming, safe place.”

The wellness centers’ mission statement is to promote the mental, physical and social well-being of students by enhancing individual skill sets, self-advocacy and positive relationships with families, peers and the Santa Clarita community to enhance and improve the outcomes for student educational and personal success.

Through the use of wellness drop-ins, referrals for students on and off campus, an anonymous drop box for questions, health psychoeducation and school-wide health and wellness awareness events, the centers will tackle or address a number of issues facing students.

The group and lunchtime presentations students will be able to voluntarily attend include: problem solving, decision making, goal setting, cyber safety, drugs/alcohol/vaping, meditation, LGBTQ issues, healthy dating and more, according to Gilberts.

Phillips said that when she was approached with the idea, she said she went and visited Burbank and Burroughs high schools to get an idea of what a wellness center on a Hart District campus could look like. They then took some of those ideas back to their students at their own schools, who helped contribute to the design and contents of what would be in the Wellness Centers.

“They wanted a very minimalistic sort of space, so when they come in there’s not a lot of clutter, it’s very open, there’s going to be water and music … it’s going to be very calming,” said Phillips.

Students, and even teachers, will not be mandated to attend any of the events, but can visit during their classroom breaks or at the discretion of their teachers and on-site staff.

Sarah Gilberts talks about her plans for starting a Wellness Center at Canyon High Schools at the William S. Hart Union School District Office in Santa Claritqa on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

According to both Phillips and Gilberts, while these are currently going in only on the West Ranch and Canyon campuses, the data collected over the course of the year will be catalogued and then used as a template for future wellness centers on other campuses.

“Every campus is already doing something for safety and comfort,” said Hunter. “But we’re just hoping this becomes another avenue that seeps out through to the entire district.”

“Our mission is to become a whole wellness district,” said Gilberts. “That’s our goal.”

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