DVUSD student expands high school wellness center concept
Last spring, a group of teachers at Barry Goldwater High attended a conference in San Diego which sparked the idea to create an on-campus wellness center―a space where students could come and take a short break from their stresses and recharge for a bit before carrying on with their day.
With support from BGHS Principal Dr. Anita Stulc, staff and parents, plans and processes were drafted, and the group’s vision came to fruition with the launch of the center, the first of its kind at Deer Valley Unified School District, late last school year.
Unused classroom space was renovated and equipped with furniture, yoga mats, slam balls, art supplies and bookshelves with resources. Staffed by the school’s behavior coordinator, students use an online pass system for permission to drop-in, and can use the space independently, or connect with a counselor.
With roughly 895 visits from students last school year, the concept has been well received and well used since the launch, inspiring BGHS senior Brendan Salisbury’s mission to expand the concept by creating dedicated space for wellness centers at all five district high schools.
Salisbury was recently named a recipient of the Bezos Family Foundation Scholarship, which challenges young people to address issues they are passionate about and bring change within their communities. Only 12 scholars were selected throughout the nation for the 2023 school year. His 4,000-word application essay describing his passion to expand the centers, earned him the scholarship.
“If you want to work out you go to the gym, if you want to learn you go to a classroom,
But where do you go when you’re feeling stressed out… we want to create welcoming, encouraging places that have resources for you when you’re feeling overwhelmed,” Salisbury told Valley Vibe.
Salisbury and his mom, a counselor at BGHS, were instrumental in helping to shape the first wellness center.
“We had a small start to it and plans drawn up on paper when Brendan and Courtenay and family stepped in and really helped take it to the next level—their donations, labor, coordination of manpower really moved it forward,” said Dr. Stulc.
Salisbury’s passion stems from personal experience. Growing up, he found himself ahead academically than his peers, but found it difficult to connect socially with them. He was labeled as profoundly gifted but was diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety disorder.
Crediting his success today to therapy and learned coping mechanisms, along with the benefit of having a mother who is also a mental health professional, Salisbury says he has come a long way. He also had a hand in helping establish the Bring Change to Mind mental health club at BGHS.
Salisbury knows not everyone has access to the resources that helped him so much. In fact, Arizona youth ranked 49th in the 2022 edition of Mental Health America’s annual report on the state of mental health in America.
In a post-pandemic world where today’s youth struggle with higher levels of depression, suicide and PTSD than perhaps any generation before them and where social media platforms continue to play a role in the lives of today’s youth, Salisbury says “It’s necessary more than ever that they [students] have access to a place that is advertised, centralized and normalized to hopefully help them heal from whatever they are struggling with.”
His project aligns with the mission of the national nonprofit Bring Change to Mind, which he said will help create student clubs on each campus in addition to the wellness centers.
He is supported by his Spanish teacher Victoria Munoz and is in the midst of getting centers set up at Sandra Day O’Connor High School, and he’s also working to partner with local organizations and businesses.
Before he graduates in the spring, he hopes to have all the wellness centers up and running, and set the stage for the work to continue as a state-wide initiative. He has been invited to meet with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss his project and passion.
The mission is supported by the local nonprofit Xan You Matter organization, providing resources, education and support for those battling mental illness. In addition to funds from the Bezos Scholarship, the Xan You Matter organization is hosting fundraisers to help provide funding for the wellness centers.
Those interested in supporting the mission directly can also donate through the project’s GoFund Me page at www.gofundme.com/f/support-the-arizona-high-school-wellness-centers.
By Karen Goveia