CLEARFIELD, Utah (ABC4) – According to the CDC, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among youth jumped 31% in 2020 compared to 2019. This shows just how hard the pandemic is on school-aged kids.
Many would agree that being a teenager is hard anyway, but the additional stress brought on by the pandemic helped plant an idea in students’ minds at Clearfield High School. They raised more than $66k to create a new center at the school to help address the mental health needs of their peers. On Thursday that center opened its doors to the student body.
Student leaders lined up in the Clearfield High School “Old Gym” Thursday afternoon. In their hands, they held a bright red ribbon. Two students used an enormous pair of scissors to cut through that ribbon. As the newly spilt ends fell to the wood floor, dozens of other students erupted into applause. After more than a year of work, the Clearfield Cares Mindfulness Center was open.
Brady Echols is the student body president. He was one of the two students who cut the ribbon. When asked why the student body worked so hard to create the new space for students feeling overwhelmed, he replied, “Instead of just going home from school, they could go to somewhere in the school, learn helping mechanisms that will help them stay relaxed so they can get back into class where they belong.”
The new center sits adjacent to the old gym. As one walks in the door, he or she is greeted by a staff member and can hear soothing sounds, smell essential oils, read words of affirmation on the walls, and is surrounded by soft and inviting colors. The students not only raised $66,000 to establish the center but also designed the layout, picked the color scheme, and chose the décor for the room.
“I think this center is going to be a great opportunity for people to just sort of relax and calm down during their day,” Brady Echols stated.
Echols told ABC4 that during the last year, a place where students could decompress has become even more needed at the school. He continued, “A lot of my friends, especially, have been having a hard time because that second wave (of COVID cases) has been coming around. A lot of people have been missing school, so when they come back to school, they’re having trouble catching up and they’re just getting super overwhelmed with their lives.”
To use the center, students must first attend a brief learning session with school counselors. During this session, counselors will teach the students mindful techniques to use while they are in the center.
School counselor Natalie Hooten explained that a few of these skills include: “Focusing on your breathing. It’s important to ground yourself in the present moment. When we’re anxious, our thoughts go to the future, they go to the past, but with mindfulness, we can focus in on the present moment to help reduce some of that anxiety.”
After attending a learning session, students may use the center as needed. However, they will need a special hall pass from their teacher(s) to get in on any given day. One in the center, students can choose to stay anywhere from five to 15 minutes.
A trained staff member (there will always be one in the center) checks the student in and the student unplugs from the world (by turning his or her phone in). After that, Hooten said the student needs “to be actively working on mindfulness skills and coping skills to reground, reset and head back to class.”
School counselors, like Natalie Hooten, will use the check-in sheet to follow up with those students who may need additional support. For students who may need additional support, the school offers a similar program but in a group setting.