Four Irvine Unified School District schools have opened designated mental wellness rooms on campus this week in an effort to encourage and facilitate open conversations about mental health with students.
Dubbed WellSpaces, Creekside High School, Lakeside Middle School, Plaza Vista School and Rancho Middle School are the latest schools to incorporate these areas, providing a physical space for kids to go to release stress from everyday life and talk to mental health staff.
The spaces opened on Monday, Sept. 18, and are meant to be an escape from the regular classroom. They incorporate nature themes that convey peace and tranquility and offer various activities like aromatherapy, crafts and sensory tools.
In the WellSpaces, students are taught by mental health staff to use self-regulation skills, such as breathing exercises, to understand and manage behaviors and reactions both inside and outside of the classroom.
Although it is up to the individual schools, generally students can visit the counselor-supervised room at any point during the regular school day or during after-school programs, following a recommendation by a teacher, counselor, friend or a self-reference, said IUSD spokesperson Annie Brown.
“Student mental health and wellness has been one of the Board of Education’s top priorities for many years,” said Superintendent Terry Walker. “This partnership is an extraordinary opportunity to build upon IUSD’s comprehensive programs, initiatives and supports which are designed to help students cultivate skills such as resiliency, perseverance and adaptability when navigating complex emotions and experiences so they may meet their full potential.”
The WellSpaces were brought to life by a collaboration between the Orange County Department of Education and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Since 2021, both entities have created these mental health sanctuaries on campuses all across Orange County.
OCDE has made mental health and wellness a top priority for Orange County students, said Mayu Iwatani, manager of mental health and wellness care coordination with the department.
In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than four in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health. The CDC also found more than one in five (22%) seriously considered attempting suicide and one in 10 (10%) did attempt suicide.
“Early data shows that our WellSpace concept is working to de-escalate students experiencing mental health concerns while at school,” said Terri Iler, director of community clinical outreach at CHOC. “We are hearing consistent reports of students experiencing positive mood changes following visits. Our program is centered on prevention, which relies on reaching students before a crisis emerges.”
The IUSD WellSpaces were provided by a recent $2 million donation by the Tsao Family Foundation, an organization created to aid local education and human services. This donation will also provide 13 more WellSpaces to other IUSD schools over the next four years, said Brown.
Other districts in Orange County, too, have incorporated WellSpace areas in schools.
Los Alamitos High School unveiled a space called the Oasis earlier this month, the second WellSpace to open on its campus. The outdoor garden has an abundance of plants and natural designs, aiming for students to relax and take time away from the stressors of the classroom, said Los Alamitos Unified Superintendent Andrew Pulver.
“The Oasis garden is more than just a physical space. It is an outdoor haven where students can reflect, meditate and simply take a break,” said Pulver. “When the district selected this space to build the WellSpace, we always had a vision to expand to the outdoors.”
So far, 27 WellSpaces have opened in the county to date and, according to Iwatani, more are planned in the coming years.
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