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County Enacts New Program, with the Support of the Fair Access Committee to Put Wellness Centers in All High Schools
The Montgomery County Council today passed legislation to establish a student Wellness Center in every high school in the county. Montgomery County has promoted Wellness Centers because they work and because they provide much more robust programs to help support students and staff on a daily basis as problems emerge. A partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools and the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers offer a continuum of programs and services that are designed to improve students' cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. The Centers provide the students with a variety of extra-curricular opportunities, mentoring and case management services, mental health counseling and on-site health screenings and care. Any student enrolled in these high schools is eligible to enroll in the school's Wellness Center. Staffing at a Wellness Center typically includes at least a school nurse, a certified nursing assistant, a site coordinator, a nurse practitioner, a pediatrician, a case manager, and a licensed mental health counselor or therapist. In some centers, other specialists are involved including nutritional experts, family counselors and program managers who develop and run programs to enhance the ability of students to cope with the pressures of school life. From its start in 2018, the Fair Access Committee supported institutionalizing Wellness Centers in all high schools. At the time, only a select few high schools had such centers, and it was challenging to convince the County to expand them to other schools. The unique characteristics of Poolesville High School – particularly its distance from mental health and counseling support services and the lack of county services such as community centers that other schools have nearby – strongly supports the case for inclusion of a Wellness Center or School Based Health Center in the plans for the construction of our new high school. The “services desert” the Fair Access Committee has pointed to when it comes to the residents of the western county also affects our youth and basic fairness demands that the county Health Department develop a plan for building and supporting such a center as the new high school is constructed. Since it is scheduled to be completely rebuilt by the end of 2024, plans should be made now to incorporate the Center into the construction process, so the Center is ready when the school reopens. While the Pandemic has added to the pressure’s students face due to the resulting social isolation it brought on and hours tied to online classes, the reality is that the mental health of our youth has been at risk for a very long time. A recent Washington Post Magazine report written by noted children’s mental health author Judith Warner stated it bluntly “We have essentially turned a blind eye to our own children for decades” (emphasis added). In the article, Warner notes that some experts blame the pandemic for the bulk of the mental health problems facing our youth today. But as she went on to note “The pandemic hasn’t created a children’s mental health crisis out of nowhere; rather, it’s shone a spotlight on a catastrophe that has been hiding in plain sight for a very long time.”After many years of neglect and the failure to provide equitable access to needed county services and investment, the western county is finally beginning to see progress on some of its key issues. The final approval of a capital improvement program to rebuild Poolesville High School is a very important start. Given how long it has taken to get to this point, we cannot afford to leave out of the program any improvements that will ensure the new school is as ready as possible to address the needs of all students for many years to come. Including a student Wellness Center in our new school as it is rebuilt is important for our students' well-being.