For many people, the Wellness Center has been a staple of the LCHS school environment ever since its inception last year. It was a space where students could come in and take a break from the stresses and worries of daily life, play games and relax, or schedule a time to talk with a school therapist or a Peer Support student .
Now, due to COVID-19, all school facilities are closed, but stress and anxiety persist. In fact, according to a poll taken in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (often called the CDC), about 26% of the 5,470 people who filled it out reported having Trauma and Stressor-related Disorder (TSRD) symptoms related to the pandemic, about 13% said they started or increased substance use due to the stress caused by the pandemic, and a startling 11% admitted that they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days. High school students in particular are experiencing a host of new problems, as an article by the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Organization details. The structure and routine of school is lost in distance learning (making it easier for students to get distracted and fall behind), social interaction isn’t as common (making students feel more alone), many extracurricular activities have been negatively impacted (which are an important part of many students’ identities), and a lot of students have parents who have lost jobs or income due to the virus (which adds to the stress they experience).
To address these issues, a new virtual Wellness Center has been created. It’s a website people can visit to find ways to ease anxiety or overwhelming feelings, with links to guided meditation and breathing exercises, games and activities, and support resources such as crisis hotlines and contact information for LCUSD counselors or school psychologists.
We wanted to learn more about the Virtual Wellness Center, so we spoke with Mrs. Rachel Zooi, an LCHS counselor who was behind the creation of both the Wellness Center last year and the new Virtual Wellness Center.
Working on the website wasn’t something she did alone.
“I’ve worked with a school psychologist named Lori Geuvjehizian. We worked on [the Virtual Wellness Center] together during the summer to finish it, using input from students and counselors in the district,” Mrs. Zooi told us. “We researched… based on students’ opinions, of what they thought would be helpful and what they knew about and recommended, in addition to some things that I knew were out there. So, it was a collaborative effort.”
However, the website isn’t just an online replica of the physical Wellness Center. It is meant to help people access some of the same resources remotely, but also expands on them. Whereas the Wellness Center was only available for students at the high school and middle school, the new Virtual Wellness Center “is meant to be a helpful resource to students and families K-12, really.”
Mrs. Zooi stressed the importance of this resource to everyone, adding, “Sometimes it’s just the gesture and the idea that’s there for them. There are people who care and people they can talk to. That’s a powerful thing, I’m hearing from students.”
The Virtual Wellness Center also allows you to get in touch with a member of the Peer Support Program on the “Resources and Support” tab. Peer Supporters provide one-to-one, confidential student support to anyone who needs it. Mrs. Zooi mentioned why they decided to have it on the website, saying, “the idea of Peer Support, it’s still relatively new, and students are somewhat reluctant… or don’t know how to access it.” She emphasized that, even though it’s new, Peer Support is a very important resource for students to utilize. “[Last year] we got feedback from students who put themselves out there and talked to another student, and I’ve heard… that it was helpful for them, even if they just used it to talk to someone a couple of times,” she said.
When promoting the Virtual Wellness Center, the school tried many different approaches. A Wellness Tab has recently been added to the school website, which has the link to the Virtual Wellness Center on it, and a link to it can be found in the student portal of the website under student resources. They also tried to raise student awareness through email.
Unfortunately, there have been problems that have arisen with the new website. First of all, there are challenges that come with the inherent nature of online resources.
“There are a lot of incredible things, but we don’t necessarily want people to be on screens even more, but there are hopefully ways to use it without adding to that,” Mrs. Zooi stated.
Additionally, she discussed the struggle of promoting it, saying, “We are having trouble adjusting to accessing students and having students access the Wellness Center resources and services.” She continued, “It’s hard to get the word out to students when so many emails are coming at them, so it’s taking some time. It’s a big adjustment, but I think soon, we’ll get a lot of students knowing how to access it. And that’s really important right now, more important than ever.”
The most significant characteristic of the Virtual Wellness Center, Mrs. Zooi reflected, is the fact that it can be used for so many different purposes.
“I think we’re getting a lot more types of needs met because it is multi-use,” she said, “We have these areas where you can just have a moment to yourself if you want to, or make some tea, but then we also have areas where you can talk to somebody when you are upset or having a really terrible day.”
Personally, said Mrs. Zooi, there’s a three-way tie in terms of her favorite tab.
“I definitely like the sounds on the music tab. But also, I love logic puzzles, and there are logic puzzles on there, so that’s pretty fun. I’ve discovered new things… there’s a great origami site, so I’ve kind of gotten into that. I was surprised that I liked that.”
As a message to students, she wishes that students will keep checking the website, mentioning that, “I want to keep adding things that students want. So if you have something to request or suggest, email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
In the end, Mrs. Zooi hopes that the Virtual Wellness Center can impact students just as much as the physical Wellness Center did.
“The Wellness Center was in many ways an easier success than we thought… we had over 200 students a week on average coming into the Wellness Center in the first few months,” Mrs. Zooi said.
She knows they can’t perfectly recreate the Wellness Center remotely, but she wants to make the best resource for anxiety and stress relief possible in this new, distanced world.
Mrs. Zooi concluded, “We miss being there, and building on [what we’ve already created], and continuing that, and we look forward to getting back, but we’re trying to make things work in the virtual realm for now.”