A plan to build a comprehensive wellness center at Gunn High School has evolved, with the most recent design moving the college and career center to a separate building, but consolidating guidance, counseling, Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) and the school nurse in one space.
Erwin Lee, principal with firm Deems Lewis McKinley Architecture, and Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann presented a revised design for the wellness center as part of an update on the Central Building Project at the Dec. 9 board meeting.
The proposed wellness center is on the second floor of a two-story building to be built at the center of campus. The first floor contains a performing arts center, backing onto Spangenberg Theatre, with music and choral classrooms as well as a computer lab for media arts classes. The second floor where most of the design shifts happened since the board gave its initial stamp of approval this June has ACS and the school psychologist in one corner, the nurse in another down the hall and eight counseling offices (plus one that can be used as a conference room or office if necessary).
There are also two large, general-purpose classrooms; one opens onto an expansive balcony overlooking a courtyard below. These rooms could be used for yoga or mindfulness classes.
"It's all about consolidating things that really should be together so the services are streamlined," Herrmann told the board.
Though Herrmann arrived at Gunn after the initial design was approved by the board, she requested that the plan be revisited and, eventually, reconfigured to optimize the services being offered in that space, she told the board Dec. 9. As part of the redesign process, Herrmann asked staff and students for input, as well as visited a teen health center at Balboa High School in San Francisco that, in partnership with the San Francisco Department of Health, offers primary care, sports physicals, reproductive health care, health education, mental health and substance abuse counseling, according to the center's website.
Herrmann stressed that the current layout of key student services at Gunn, with school counselors, Adolescent Counseling Services, the nurse and others in separate locations, is not only inconvenient for students but hinders staff communication and collaboration.
Rose Weinmann, Gunn High School's student board representative, expressed concern at the Dec. 9 board meeting that counseling services are located out of sight on the second floor, making it difficult for students to know if their counselor is available or not. Board President Melissa Baten Caswell later echoed Weinmann, and suggested implementing some sort of technology downstairs so students don't have to go upstairs to see who is available.
Herrmann said that they did map out some options with the wellness center on the first floor, but square-footage challenges and the need to balance both accessibility and privacy won out.
Gunn junior Sara Zhang told the Weekly that she appreciates the school's effort to create a more accessible space for student wellness.
"Right now, the designated people for students to talk to about personal problems are mainly ACS," Zhang said. "The problem is that they are located in a small corner behind the attendance office, both of which are in unknown locations to some and many don't even know they exist. I think that the location of the future wellness center will be a good addition because it will be a resource that will be easily accessible by students."
At last week's board meeting, member Terry Godfrey raised the issue of stigma surrounding seeking mental health services. She said when she's asked her own high school-age children or others in the district why don't more students go to Adolescent Counseling Services, she gets two answers.
"One is, 'It's in a place where no one knows where it is and it's not accessible'; or, 'It's a place where everybody can see you going in.' This plan makes sense to me as an adult," Godfrey said, "(but) what was the student input, since the input I've gotten from students completely contradicts itself?"
While developing the revised design, Herrmann met with Gunn's Student Executive Council (SEC) to gather feedback. She said students told her the best way to make them and their peers feel more comfortable about taking advantage of the school's mental health services is to put them in the same place as many other services.
"I could be going to get a band aid from the nurse; I could be going to have a nutrition session; I could be going to have a yoga class," Herrmann said of students entering the proposed center. "All of those services will be out of the same main hub."
However, Gunn's College and Career Center will not be part of that main hub. It's been moved to building B the current location of the main office and administration building at the front of school.
Herrmann told the Weekly that this was due to space constraints in the new building. The new location near the visitor parking lot will also be good for parents and college representatives, she said. It also allows for "room to grow the program, to expand exploration of other post-secondary options and make connections with internships, work study, senior projects, etc.," Herrmann wrote in an email Monday.
The revised design will return to the board on Jan. 13 for approval. If the project moves forward, construction is projected to be completed by March 2018.
Zhang said that future senior classes might be upset to lose the quad, where many senior traditions and events take place, during construction, but "having a mental health support facility for students who need the specialized support is more important. If this wellness center was built and even just one student benefited from it and felt that the available resources helped them, it would be worth it to miss a couple of small events that probably wouldn't even make much of an impact on my life."