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Weehawken School District opens wellness centers

Supports mental health for students and faculty

The Wellness Center at Weehawken High School. Photos via Weehawken School District

The Weehawken School District is supporting mental health at schools by going paperless, according to Superintendent of Schools Eric Crespo.

The paperless concept came about while Crespo and Jenna Wendolowski, Supervisor of Counseling Services, were seeking to open a Wellness Center at Weehawken High School.

“We were running out of space, so we went into our guidance suite and looked, and there was this huge counter with multitudes of paper and files,” Crespo said. “Some of it was ten years old. We knew there has to be a better way to do this.”

That’s where a partnership with company FileBank came into play. FileBank digitized the paper files.

“We still have access to the files at our fingertips,” Crespo said. “But this opened up a whole new world.”

Shared database

The files are accessible on demand in a digital database hosted by FileBank.

“We request it, and it just comes to us as a PDF,” Crespo said. “If we need a hard copy, or whatever the case may be, their turnaround time is within 24 hours. So it’s really accessible to us.”

Soon digitization spread to classrooms to help teachers make the most of their limited space amid social distancing guidelines, as well as other rooms that have been underused due to paper files.

A serene mural covers one wall of the center.

“We started maximizing spaces in other places,” Crespo said. “Now, we’re going into different rooms, doing more work with [FileBank]. Those rooms in the near future are going to become other things for students for telemedicine, a student store, etcetera. It all came because we’re now able to put these paper files somewhere secure and also have them at our fingertips.”

Crespo said this effort was part of many green initiatives the district is currently undertaking.

Wellness Center

Getting rid of the paper files storage area allowed for the Wellness Center to open in its place.

“The Wellness Center is designed not just for kids who have anxiety or some mental health issues, but really for everyone,” Wendolowski said. “If you’re having a bad day or anything like that, you can have that space to relax and destress. We don’t really like to target a certain student.”

Encouraging signs and posters hang in the center.

“Maybe you left your house and got into an argument with your brother, sister, mother, or father,” Crespo said. “Maybe you’re really stressed, you’re in your AP class, you’re trying to get into college, and you just need somewhere to unwind.”

Teachers also need to unwind.

“Teachers are allowed to get stressed,” Crespo said. “The Wellness Center is there for them too.”

The room is designed to be a calm and inviting space: relaxing murals and inspirational posters cover the walls, and there’s abundant comfortable seating.

Needed now more than ever

Providing additional mental health support is crucial amid the pandemic.

“We saw food insecurity. There’s homelessness. There’s kids that, when it came to coming to school, that was such a big part of social interaction for them,” Crespo said. “School was always a safe place for them, where people care about them and where people believe in them. That got taken away because of the pandemic. So now, as we reintroduce our student body back in, what better place to have this as the district transitions back.”

A closeup of the soothing imagery n the mural at the center

The district began work on centers at two other schools. Crespo said the Wellness Center at Theodore Roosevelt School just finished. In about a year, Crespo said he’d like to have one at Daniel Webster School, so all three schools have a center.

Crespo continued: “We’re excited about the Wellness Center. We think that we are going to see a tremendous amount of foot traffic in it. We know we’re going to see benefits from it when it comes to our social and emotional well being and our mental health. And it’s for everyone.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.