Like every graduating senior, Kate Joss-Bradley's high school career has had its ups and downs. But Joss-Bradley took her lowest moments and created something uplifting for all who need it: the Ashland High School Wellness Center.
"I was really passionate about supporting the emotional health and well-being of students, because I wasn’t able to get that through the high school and not many students are,” said Joss-Bradley, who missed two months of school her junior year while dealing with a bout of depression and anxiety.
“And I thought how incredibly useful it would be if students could have a place, or even just a mind-set shift of, 'OK, we can focus and take care of our emotional well-being,' because, in fact, taking care and supporting our mental lives we’ll do better intellectually, we’ll do better in school and sports and extracurriculars, as well as just taking care of yourself."
The Wellness Center officially opened for business May 8 in Room H-39, a formerly unused room on the top floor of the humanities building. Joss-Bradley and her cadre of student volunteers cleaned it up, painted the drab concrete walls a light blue, a book shelf dark blue, threw down some bean bags and stocked the shelves with books and magazines.
The Wellness Center is open every school day and staffed with peer mentors trained in crisis intervention and adults from all walks of life who have counseling experience and/or training. Many of the adults involved, Joss-Bradley said, are volunteers for The Rose Circle, an Ashland-based mentoring network that partners with local agencies, schools and organizations to serve youth and train mentors.
AHS Principal Erika Bare offered a resounding thumb's-up to Joss-Bradley's idea, but wasn’t quite sure how the ambitious student should proceed. Joss-Bradley knew she wanted peer mentors to play a role. An intern for Inner Guide Expeditions, she has experience mentoring peers and has seen firsthand the positive impacts such mentorships produce.
Joss-Bradley, student body co-president, whipped up some applications and distributed them throughout the school. The strategy seemed only logical, which is why she was so crestfallen when the exact opposite turned out to be true. Only two applications were returned.
In the months that followed, Joss-Bradley often found herself describing her vision to friends, and friends of friends, and acquaintances. One of those acquaintances was Lilli Morrish, who, as a 14-year-old freshman doesn’t necessarily have a lot in common with a senior who’s preparing to move to Southeast Asia after graduation. But Morrish heard Joss-Bradley describe the center, admired the passion with which she spoke and recognized the void the center was supposed to fill as one that did exist. Morrish was sold.
“Teenage years are not really something we associate with a nice stable relationship with yourself, your body, the people around you and most of all your mental and emotional health,” Morrish said. “You’re not feeling good all the time, and being able to address that and being able to grow and learn in healthy ways is something very, very important and is something that isn’t really addressed.”
As word of Joss-Bradley's vision grew, so, too, did interest.
Junior Sienna Ross and other student volunteers committed to an all-day retreat training session held in March.
An AHS high-achiever like Joss-Bradley and a member of the state championship speech and debate team, Ross believes the center could become a vital space at the school, which is part of the reason she wants to assume a leadership role next school year.
“I like to use the analogy, if you have anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and you have a panic attack in the classroom because you’re just so overwhelmed or something’s happening at home, where do you go?” she said. “You can’t go to the bathroom because there are five other people in there. Can’t use the nurse — our school-based clinic is more focused on immediate treatment of physical injuries. So this is like a quiet space, somewhere to go and sit for a bit, and resources are available.
"There are coloring books, there are pillows to lie down on to meditate, there’s a yoga class adjacent to the room, and then there are the peer mentors to talk to if one needs to talk about things, and we’ve had the training and experience to be able to do that.”
Counselors and parents may have a hard time relating to the unique pressures today’s teenagers deal with, she added, so if nothing else the Wellness Center will be the go-to place students can, even for a short time, find a little relief.
“It’s more competitive than ever so that’s always looming in the back of my mind,” Ross said. “The grades obviously take up so much time, but you also have the pressure to have the picture-perfect resume to give to the colleges. You want to have a balance of activities and be climate justice warriors, but also be really good at math and have really good essay writing skills. I feel like our lives are sort of dictated by numbers, like GPA, and hopefully this space will be a place where you can get away from those numbers.”
Donations to the Wellness Center can be made through the Ashland Schools Foundation website at ashlandschoolsfoundation.org; click on the "Donate Now" button and specify in the comments field that the donation is for the AHS Wellness Center.
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.