County Council funds MCPS wellness centers

Andrew Lansell

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Photo courtesy Montgomery County Public Schools

MCPS outlines the priorities when tackling the issue of mental health in schools. The county council has made the decision to require wellness centers in all schools in the county beginning next school year.

As mental health awareness rises across the nation, the Montgomery County Council has given funding to schools to implement locations in MCPS high schools where students can seek assistance for their social and emotional needs.

At WJ, which does not currently have a wellness center, it is still unclear how the center will be implemented. However, its location next year is known.

“We know that the centers will be staffed by the Department of Health and Human Services and room 250 will be converted to serve as its location. The class that is currently in room 250 will be moved to a portable next year,” Principal Jennifer Baker said.

Montgomery County has recently been focusing on mental health awareness during Covid. The school system has been increasingly pressured to not only solve educational needs for students, but psychological needs as well.

“I hear students asking for adults with whom they can share confidential challenges, to believe in and instill confidence in them, and to connect them with additional resources,” MCPS Superintendent Monifa McKnight said to The Moco Show Podcast.

Currently, there are five high schools in the county that already have wellness centers. Wheaton High School’s center, a reliable prediction for WJ’s wellness center, is open from Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and is staffed by a site manager, nurses, licensed mental health counselors and youth development counselors.

At Wheaton, the center requires an application approved by the student’s legal parent or guardian. Health services include individual counseling, immunizations, STI/HIV testing, dental screening and referrals, vision and hearing assessments, primary preventative care, gynecological care and sports physical exams. Mental health services include individual, family and group counseling and crisis intervention.

These centers also have what is called case management services, including academic support, child care, clothing, educational and employment resources, emergency services, housing issues, food resources, insurance issues and legal services.

Counselor Benjamin O’Hara interned at Northwood High School, which also has a wellness center, and is very excited to see one at WJ.

“As far as the wellness centers, I think they will be helpful to us counselors, and I am looking forward to them. As I understand it, the wellness centers will be staffed with licensed clinicians/therapists, who won’t charge students and families to see them. This will make access to mental health services for a lot of families much easier, if not a reality,” O’Hara said.