Where are the wellness centers? MCPS delays mental health resources


Photo courtesy of Molly Scanlon

Co-treasure Kathleen Winters (far left), president Norah Mannle (center) and secretary Niya Tripathi (far right) paint the walls of the new Wellness Center.

The nationwide mental health resource shortage has rocked the educational world as schools struggle to scrape together various wellness programs for their stressed-filled students. To aid in these efforts, Montgomery County promised the implementation of various wellness programs before the start of the new school year, but the delay and lack thereof has made the shortage even more evident.

Almost every school in the county is in the process of implementing the ‘Bridge to Wellness’ program, an initiative that applies more mental wellness help in the form of a Care Manager, a Youth Development Specialist and a Mental Health Specialist. This program was created to bridge the gap between schools that lacked wellness centers by providing more deep rooted mental health help without replacing our already initiated counseling department. Additionally, some schools have constructed mental health rooms, while separate from the ‘Bridge to Wellness’ program, it provides a safe space for students to escape to when they need a mental health break during school hours. WJ, has not yet received either item, leaving staff and students to wonder: where is what was promised?

“The issue is that the entire Wellness Center Staff have not yet been hired. We have our Wellness Room and the offices are ready, but we do not have the physical people to work yet,” Resource Counselor Imani Ladson said.

Natalie Zaid (right) and Molly Scanlon (left) the co-treasurers of Uplift WJ place tape up on the walls of the new Wellness Room in order to begin the painting process. Uplift WJ has allocated funds from the school in order to decorate and furnish the room located behind the counseling office. (Photo by Sophia Yodice)

There have also been major budget appropriation issues that have caused a roadblock to the ‘Bridge to Wellness’ process, leading the hiring process to only have just been started.

“The appropriation of these funds was approved in late May, and the final expansion was received on August 4th, so they weren’t allowed to do anything until August 4th, which didn’t give a lot of time for hiring,” school Social Worker and Uplift WJ sponsor Catherine Kennedy said.

The administration has been spending the past few months working to hire those best fit for WJ to support students through the new year. As of recently, two out of the three positions have been filled including Lisa Giron, the Care Manager and Payton Belisle, the Youth Development Specialist, and they are currently in the school building.

As for the wellness rooms, the Uplift WJ club is sponsoring the construction and providing furniture for the rooms, but lack of constructive communication between faculty and the room advisors has increased the delay.

There was some miscommunication between Uplift and school faculty over where to buy items, how to buy the items, the timeline for the room, etc; however, now the design of the wellness room is finally underway.

— Uplift WJ president Norah Mannle

To help speed the process along, Uplift urges students to send in recommendations and requests for the rooms to their Instagram. As well as participation in volunteer opportunities such as painting the walls, which has since been completed with a new coat of fresh paint.

“This is a new project for our school, and so there’s bound to be trial and error when figuring out how to design and implement it,” Mannle said.

While the delay is discouraging, the programs are only meant to enhance our wellness resources, not replace them, so it’s important to filter communication through counselors or a trusted adult beforehand.

“There are supports for students if they need them, they can come to me, or going to your counselor or trusted adult in the building will figure out what supports there are, and what needs to happen,” Kennedy said.

As winter approaches, there have been significant advancements in both the ‘Bridge to Wellness’ program and the mental health room, and administration hopes to have them completed within the next month. While the overall lack of explanation has left many students in the dark, more information will be released going forward as these programs are instated.