Canyon, West Ranch open wellness centers

Dignitaries, students and school faculty in attendance cut the ribbon for the West Ranch High School Wellness Center. Caleb Lunetta/The Signal.
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Lights low, the sound of water running and not a phone in sight, the campuses at Canyon High School and West Ranch High School cut the ribbons on each of their wellness centers Friday.

Before the official ribbon cuttings, the centers have been open since the beginning of the school year, and so far the results, according to officials, have exceeded expectations.

Each center offers comfortable furniture, dimmed lighting, peaceful white noise and a trained social worker ready to speak and help any student who walks through the door. Sarah Gilberts, who runs the Canyon High center, says an average of 60 students visit the center a day, and Nancy Phillips at West Ranch said about 40 students visit per day there.

The West Ranch Wellness Center features furniture, relaxing activities and low lighting all designed to be a calming place for students. Caleb Lunetta/The Signal

“Students in the 30-some days we have been in existence have come into the center for something,” Phillips said. “They’ve had a high rate of anxiety or they’re nervous about something. And what has been amazing to me is that they come in for 10 or 15 minutes, sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t, they’ll grab a worry stone or fidget and sit for a few minutes, and then they’ll say, ‘I need to go back to class.’ So they’re using it exactly how we were hoping.”

At the Canyon center, Gilberts has said she’s seen such beneficial results and joy from the students who use it that she can see a future where district-funded wellness centers are at all Hart District school sites.

“We connected them with individual counseling, we’re on the cusp of starting (student) groups, skill-based groups and teaching them those interpersonal skills they can take with them throughout life to teach them how to cope, how to deal with stress and mood shifts,” Gilberts said.

And sharing in Gilberts’ enthusiasm for the centers and wanting to spread them around the district are the students themselves, according to those in attendance Friday, who have used the centers since the start of school.

“To me, it’s a safe place that (I can visit) if I’m feeling stressed out or anxious at all. I can come here if I need to have a place to be and a person to talk to, so I can head back to class feeling better,” said West Ranch junior Aviva Brynjegard-Bialik.

West Ranch seniors Allison Alben and Evan Avalos sit in chairs reading a book provided by the Wellness Center. Caleb Lunetta/The Signal.

“I’ve been dealing with some family stuff, and I had an audition coming up,” said fellow West Ranch junior Emma Bates. “I was super stressed, so I came in here, talked with Nancy and I took a 5-minute break. I was able to go back out there and feel a little bit better with a little weight off my shoulders.”

West Ranch seniors said that although they’ll only have the center for a year, they’ve already valued the experiences they’ve had there.

“Just a couple days ago, I came in here to talk to Mrs. Phillips … and I noticed this girl who came in here with her headphones in and she kept to herself,” Mia Salin said. “I invited her back to the ASB room with me, and just talked to her, which was a really cool experience, and without this room, I probably wouldn’t even have met her.”

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