NEWTON — Karen Mazur, coordinator of guidance at Newton High School, has seen a “tremendous increase” in the number of students struggling with their mental well-being in recent years, to the point that she and her colleagues have adjusted the central focus of their work.
“The scope of the guidance counselor’s job at the high school has changed much more, from career advising and post-secondary advising to mental health issues,” Mazur said. “Because of that, we began to have a very serious conversation about how we might meet the needs of our students more effectively to reduce school avoidance, anxiety, stress, depression, all of those things.”
That conversation eventually led to the creation of a “wellness room,” which was officially unveiled in a dedication ceremony at the high school Friday afternoon.
The room, named “The Green Room” in a school-wide vote, will serve as a place where students can access counselors and therapy groups to help them deal with a variety of emotional problems. With several couches and bean bag chairs spread throughout the room, it can also be used as a place to simply decompress from the stresses of school life or as a more convenient setting for a classroom lesson.
“Let’s say an English teacher’s doing a poetry lesson. Why not bring (students) in here, play some soft music, have soft lighting?“ Mazur said. ”So it’s multi-purpose, but all dedicated to stress reduction and well-being.”
The wellness area came about as the result of a meeting last summer between Mazur, principal Jeff Waldron and Thorlabs owner and founder Alex Cable, who had contacted the school officials out of the blue to ask them what they needed to benefit the school community.
“After about an hour’s conversation, where we landed was, what we need as a school community is to support our students’ mental wellness so they can perform in the classrooms, in their clubs and their activities at the levels that that their abilities and their gifts allow,” Waldron said.
Following the meeting, administrators and counselors spent the next year discussing plans for the proposed wellness center in a series of additional meetings. The organizers then did much of the cosmetic work themselves, spending time over several days prior to the start of the school year painting the entire room its signature green.
Students in attendance at Friday’s unveiling ceremony praised several aspects of the Green Room, including the administration’s decision to place it in a central location near the cafeteria as opposed to a relatively obscure place.
“It’s more of an open environment,“ said senior Emily Brothman. ”Going down to the guidance office, it’s down there. This gives it an open feel where if you just need to, (you can) come and relax. Even during lunch periods, cafeterias get loud, the senior lounge gets loud. You can come in here, you can relax, you can not be in a stressful environment while you’re doing work.”
Fellow senior Jessie Brannick said she believes younger students today face significantly more mental health issues than those in previous generations. She also referenced several tragedies the Newton High School community has endured recently as a reason why the Green Room is such an important resource.
“Everyone, I feel like, needs just a different way of coping with the amount of loss that we’ve had, so it’s amazing to have it,“ Brannick said.
Moving forward, counselors are hoping to expand the use of the wellness area to include additional programs like meditation and yoga. As with the formation of the room, administrators are committed to working with the rest of the school community to determine the course of action that will most effectively benefit students.
“We understand that, in our world, the schools can’t provide everything that students need,” Newton Superintendent Ken Greene said. “We’re not equipped to do it all by ourselves, but if we engage with parents, we engage with our community, we engage with partners like Thorlabs and others, we can get a lot of things done.”
Kyle Morel can also be contacted on Twitter: @KMorelNJH, on Facebook: Facebook.com/KMorelNJH, or by phone: 973-383-1292.