Wellness Focused for Teens
Written By: Kyle Yamasaki, MFT, ACS Site Supervisor
Wellness has been around for millennia, but it feels like a refreshing approach to helping teens with social-emotional problems in our schools. As the site supervisor for ACS at Redwood Continuation High School (RHS) in the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD), I can share some of the exciting wellness activities organized by the ACS on-campus counseling team and SUHSD.
But first, what is “Wellness” in this context?
The World Health Organization defines wellness as:
- “The optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns, the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually, and economically, and the fulfillment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings.”
Pertinent to the teens we work with, research supports that the focus on mental wellness can help with with self-regulation of intense emotions, resilience to stressors, and recovery from crises or illness. For example, at RHS, although the ACS team often addresses mental wellness issues with referred students who have urgent needs, we are also concerned about the presence of wellness for those who do not see us. The absence of distress does not indicate a presence of wellness.
Teens come to RHS for extreme deficiency in credits, which appears to be symptom of other major stressors. These stressors are often coped with in unhealthy but peer approved ways, such as: avoiding school, avoiding family, or self-medicating. This is in addition to the basic developmental stresses of adolescence.
RHS teachers, administrators, and the ACS team see significant potential in each student. We know this from the students we work with. Students display resilience against seemingly overwhelming odds. I started a discussion with the ACS interns about ways we could begin to engage students in campus-wide wellness activities.
We started with learning more about the students we worked with and brainstorming their needs. We found that both male and female RHS students overwhelmingly wanted lunch time sport related activities, were interested in learning more about cooking and healthy eating, and expressed interest in therapeutic art activities.
In kind, ACS has started to work on providing activities like this during lunchtime. So far, we have successfully engaged a small group of adolescent boys in a mural activity and creating spirit stones, for example. A new RHS social work intern has also recently joined our team who will start to engage the adolescent boys for lunchtime sports activities.
As the site supervisor at RHS, what has also been remarkable to me is seeing how the ACS interns have also been able to share their passions and talents that match our students. It seems like a natural synergy that is more meaningful and healthy for everyone.
While ACS’s wellness efforts are in the beginning stages, SUHSD has been committed to some innovative wellness activities. Most notably is RHS’s meditation-based stress reduction and wellness program called Quiet Time – an evidenced based program that has reported outcomes such as improved GPA, increased attendance, and reduced anxiety and psychological distress.
The core activity of Quiet Time is transcendental meditation that the students, teachers, and administrators all participate in. On campus in select classrooms, doors are closed with a “meditation in progress” sign. For 20 minutes, two times a day, students meditate. Students rave about the positive impacts this has had on their lives. Students who were having a bad day even start to come in to our ACS office at RHS, needing some space to meditate.
What is most promising for Wellness in our high schools is the effort to help everyone achieve their highest potential and level of functioning. It is be exciting to see what other new wellness programs will be initiated at different high schools, especially as wellness policies at PAUSD and SUHSD continue to be implemented.
Manderscheid RW, Ryff CD, Freeman EJ, McKnight-Eily LR, Dhingra S, Strine TW. Evolving definitions of mental illness and wellness.Prev Chronic Dis 2010;7(1):A19. http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2010/jan/09_0124.htm. Accessed [4/3/2016].