Official Student Newspaper of Henry M. Gunn High School

The Oracle

Official Student Newspaper of Henry M. Gunn High School

The Oracle

Official Student Newspaper of Henry M. Gunn High School

The Oracle

In the Pursuit of Wellness: Wellness Center adapts to feedback, changes

In 2016, Gunn established the Wellness Center to support students’ mental health. Staffed by mental health professionals and licensed therapists, the center was built at the district community’s urging.  As part of The Oracle’s revived “In Pursuit of Wellness” series, this article focuses on the following question: Is the Wellness Center adequately supporting students?


What is the Wellness Center?

Located in P-231, the Wellness Center allows students to seek professional mental health services, destress with friends, engage in activities designed for relaxation and have a quick snack. 

Around 300 students visit the center each day for therapy appointments, quick breaks, eating lunch and relaxing, according Wellness Coordinator Michelle Ramos. Students can drop in at any time between 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, including class time. The center is also open to those enrolled in summer school. When the Wellness Center is closed, students are directed to Allcove in Palo Alto, which is a separate wellness center. 

If a student needs to connect with a therapist, they can either have a drop-in session or refer themselves to their counselor or Ramos for ongoing therapy sessions. 

For drop-in sessions, students are prompted to fill out a short form on an iPad by the entrance so that the wellness team is aware of their needs. They are connected to a therapist right away if  one is available. 

Students have up to three drop-in sessions without officially notifying anyone. Counselors may be notified in case of academic concerns or stressors, and parents may also be notified unless they are a barrier to mental health. However, according to Ramos, about 97% of students who believe that their parents are against therapy find their parents to be supportive. All content during therapy sessions always remains confidential with a few exceptions. 

The Wellness Center’s staff is comprised of Ramos, Wellness Outreach Specialist Rosie Castillo who focuses on promoting the center and mental health, Mental Health and Wellness Associate Dani Warren, Mental Health and Wellness Therapist Paul Hickey and PAUSD Mental Health and Wellness Therapist Brittney Tabel who provide counseling services to Gunn students.

Over the past school year, the Wellness Center has organized various activities, ranging from decorating sugar cookies and painting to bringing animals on campus. These events not only help students hang out and unwind, but also destigmatize mental health struggles.

“People tend to internalize (their emotions) because they believe that no one else understands what it is like or no one else is feeling that way,” Castillo said. 

According to Castillo, destigmatizing mental health issues will make students more willing to reach out for help. 

“We wouldn’t shame anyone for going to the doctor for getting an annual breast exam for breast cancer,” she said. “Why would we want people to feel ashamed that they have to seek support for therapy?” 


Student response to the Wellness Center

Results from the Panorama Survey from fall of 2023 show that 56% of respondents have often felt sad and 31% respondents often felt worried, increasing from fall of 2022 by 12% and 6% respectively . 

 For junior Mia Saad, who visits the center once a week, the Wellness Center is a safe space.

“I go whenever there are drop-ins to take a break or for food,” she said. “Talking to people is nice, especially therapists, and it is also just a quiet place to relax. They (therapists) help you clear your mind and help you look at other thought processes. If you have issues, then you can think and scroll down on your own thoughts, but they can help you think from a different perspective.”

However, some students believed that the Wellness Center lacked visibility, making students feel unsure of utilizing the center for their mental health needs. One such student is sophomore Milcah Morrison, who upon coming to Gunn, recalled the Wellness Center being only briefly mentioned during the freshmen orientation.

“It wasn’t enough information for me to be like, ‘Oh, I can go there. That’s a safe place,’” she said. “If we invest more into wellness and mental health, I think that people will definitely start to consider going there in general.”

Although the center originally had a 15-minute time limit placed as an agreement by stakeholders when the center was first established, the mandate was lifted after a student’s death. It is planned to  remain lifted for the rest of the school year and transition back in the fall of the 2024-25 school year. 

“We knew that some students were in grief or just upset, and we wanted to make sure that they didn’t feel rushed to go back to class,” Ramos said. 

With varying usage of the center, Freshman Tim Landt prefers to use the center for a quiet study space and finds these rules beneficial for self-control. 

“The no-electronics rule helps me stay on task without being distracted on my phone,” he said. 

According to freshman Isabella Cruz, many teachers have been supportive toward students visiting the Wellness Center during class to take a break. Students can ask their teachers to write them a pass during class or ask a wellness staff member to notify their teacher through email.  

“(Teachers) are always saying, ‘Feel free to go to the Wellness Center whenever you need to,’” she said.


Growth and future development of the Wellness Center

Moving forward, the Wellness team wishes to continue to promote student mental health and well-being, with an emphasis on normalizing mental illnesses and reducing stigma around the discussion of mental health. 

“As students go through their high school career, maybe the juniors and seniors are finally opening up to us since we are familiar with them,” Ramos said. “But then, (the issue is), as the next group comes in, we have to kind of start all over.”

The wellness team has also been working closely with the Parent Teacher Student Association to set goals for the upcoming years and plan mental health education workshops. 

“We also want to have parents share their concerns with us, since not all students come to us,” Ramos said. “But if we can impart some guidance and tools to parents, maybe they can take it home for their students.” 

Since the death of a student, the wellness team has made efforts to become more visible and promote their resources. Recently, the team has made an Instagram account, @gunnwellnesscenter, with information on how to sign in for a drop-in session and how to make the most out of the Wellness Center space. The team has also set up tables in the senior quad during lunch with activities promoting mental health and designed a logo for the wellness team. 

“We want shirts with our logo sign so that everybody knows, ‘Oh, this is the wellness team and these are the people that we are going to talk to when we are in distress or upset,’” Ramos said.

The team also wants to work more closely with other departments, including the admin and the counseling team, to communicate about students’ concerns and ways to implement more help. 

The wellness team has seen growth in the number of students in the center, with over 1500 visits in the past two months. Castillo shares that she has come across more people addressing mental health issues and helping their peers. 

“We have more occurrences of people coming up to the Wellness Center and being like, ‘Hey, I don’t know this person but they posted this on social media and I’m concerned about them. It seems kind of serious,’ or even (helping) their friends (by saying), ‘Hey, my friend sent this text message yesterday and I’m worried about them. Could you please check in on them?’” she said. “I feel like this represents how you guys are just so insightful, aware and have really good instincts when to seek out support for your friends. As a student population, you guys are so resilient, and I think it speaks out about what you guys are involved in and push through.” 

To reach out to the wellness team, email [email protected] or fill out this form.

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About the Contributor
Yueun Hong
Yueun Hong, Sports Editor
Sophomore Yueun Hong is an online editor for The Oracle and has been on staff since January 2023. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and playing the piano.
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