Wellness Centers Open At Local High School

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 14, 2024

Lucy Fortini, center, and another MBHS student, AJ Rabadon did the honors last week and cut the ribbon to the new Wellness Center.

High school can be tough on a kid; often filled with “teen angst;” anxiety and stress over things like lost loves, tough schoolwork assignments, and problems involving peers, friends, family and more.

Students at Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo high schools, now have a place where they can seek help dealing with the pressures of adolescent life or maybe just to chill for a while.

The San Luis Costal Unified School District last week celebrated the grand opening of Student Wellness Centers on each campus, spaces designed to be relaxing and staffed by a trained therapist and counselor.

“In response to the growing need for youth mental health support,” said a news release from the District announcing the grand openings, “both Morro Bay High School and San Luis Obispo High School have designed a safe and accessible space on each campus to promote social-emotional wellness and provide students with access to mental health resources.”

Morro Bay High’s Wellness Center was designed by a student, junior Lucy Fortini, who put together a warm and inviting space that’s divided by a partial interior wall, each side with a giant screen TV and sound system. Also, there are comfortable couches in a space that’s clearly been designed by someone who has a gift for it.

“I love to get involved with these sorts of things,” she told Estero Bay News after the ribbon cutting and official opening of the MBHS Wellness Center. This, she added, had been one of the most fun projects she’s done, which includes decorating for school dances, like Homecoming.

Morro Bay High’s new Wellness Center is a warm confortable looking setting where kids experiencing anxiety can go to take a break.

Fortini also leads a “Wellness Club” that meets at lunchtime on Mondays, where they offer each other emotional support. She said her Spanish teacher asked if she’d like to help with this project. She contacted Heather Willis, who will staff the center.

Willis explained that her role will be as a counselor to help the kids who come in voluntarily with their social, emotional health and troubles they might have with learning. 

“I will help the kids with the mental side of things,” she said. School, she added, “is a stressful place for teenagers. Here they can take a breather and then head back to class.”

If a student feels sad, stressed out or anxious — or possibly all three — they can ask a teacher for a pass out of class to go to the Wellness Center, or Willis said, anyone can drop in during break and at lunch. It’s a new way of doing things.

“Before,” Willis said, “if a kid was having a panic attack, they’d send them home. Now they can come here and talk with a counselor.” When they feel better again, they go back to class. The Center will be available before school too.

Willis, who is also a therapist, said there would not be any outside therapists involved but if warranted, they can refer someone for outside treatment. The plan is to continue the program during summer school, too.

The money for the Wellness Centers is coming from a State program, the “Student Behavioral Health Incentive Program,” and the District’s administrator for the program, Janet Gould, the former principal at Del Mar Elementary and now executive director of Student Support Services at the District, said the grant paid the start up costs. They are looking into how to keep the program going after the grant money runs out.

One way is use the law that set up the program. Gould said the law gives the District the ability to bill a student’s parents’ insurance companies for reimbursement of the services they provide.

The fee schedule, she said, is being rolled out and it will entail some tracking of services rendered. Everything would be voluntary, she explained, and set up through an insurance provider and with the permission of parents.

Services could include screening through County Mental Health, risk assessments, and counseling sessions, Gould said. 

Asked about the funding, District Superintendent Dr. Eric Prater acknowledged that with a grant, funding is temporary but right now they are hoping to partner with the County Office of Education to tap monies it receives for student mental health services, so the District can continue the program after the grant runs its course.

You May Also Like…

Tibetan Monks Visit Morro Bay

Tibetan Monks Visit Morro Bay

Photos by www.photobyvivian.com  The Tibetan Sacred Arts Tour with seven delegates/monks from the Drepung Gomang...