Irvington Opens First Wellness Center



Assistant Principal Honerkamp (pictured above) delivers a speech at the Grand Open- ing of Irvington’s first Wellness Center.

Shradha Krishnamurthy, Entertainment Editor

On Jan. 28 during Lunch, Irvington High School officially opened the district’s first-ever Wellness Center. Housed in room 49, the center replaces the preexisting Responsibility Center (RC) and signals a turning point in the way that Irvington handles mental health and disciplinary action. 

The grand opening was attended by local officials, including Superintendent Kim Wallace, Public Informations Officer Brian Killgore, and FUSD Director of Student Support Services Gregory Bailey.  The opening featured a ribbon-cutting and speeches by Assistant Principal John Honerkamp, Principal Melsby, PTSA president Fahria Khan, Greg Bailey, and Student Taskforce co-head Emily Liu (12). Students were also welcome to come in and acquaint themselves with the remodeled space and enjoy cookies and hot cocoa. 

Spearheaded by Assistant Principal Honerkamp, Principal Melsby, School Psychologist Yvette Helmers, and Emily Liu (12), the formation of the center is largely dedicated to furthering good mental health. The idea began when, due to budget cuts, Irvington staff voted against the continuation of the RC into the 2019-20 school year. 

“The RC was very expensive to run, for one thing, because we had to pay teachers to be there,” said Honerkamp. “A fifth of the classes that teachers taught had to be the RC, and that was time that could be spent teaching something else. That was a lot of money at a time where there was a budget crunch, and that didn’t make sense.”

Additionally, the disciplinary methods espoused by the RC clashed with Irvington’s new approach towards both mental health and discipline. 

“I think the students who were in there were by-and-large students who didn’t feel like they had a place at Irvington,” said Honerkamp. “A majority of students [were there] because of attendance related problems, and they end up getting an in-house suspension, which ‘punishes’ students for missing class by making them miss more class, and that’s not helping anybody.” 

Due to this, a group of Irvington administrators, including Helmers and Honerkamp, pushed for the Wellness Center to replace the former RC and use the space in a more positive manner. 

The transformation received support, donations, and volunteers from local organizations like S.A.V.E, Fremont Youth and Family Services, Tri-City Health Center, and Irvington’s own PTSA. Despite having a smaller budget, through donations and assistance, Irvington was able to paint the room a cheerful yellow and stock up on soothing, therapeutic necessities, like board games and feeling boards. 

“We’ve been doing the best we can on a shoestring budget,” said Honerkamp. “We’re working toward building a good part of the wellness center that is going to be really comfortable. We’ve ordered a shipment of other necessities for the room. Principal Melsby and I were hoping that they’d arrive before the grand opening, but unfortunately, they did not. When those items do arrive, we’ll be in even better shape.” 

In a positive step, students were able to form a task force and help ensure that the Wellness Center would meet students’ needs. 

“We have seven to nine members, and we’ve made sure to choose people based on the student groups they represented,” said Liu. “For example, [we chose students from] CCA, ITA, the career community, [and] student-athletes, because we’re looking at the way mental health is affected in all these different niches through the school.”

Students can be referred to the counseling provided in the Wellness Center by teachers or their IHS counselors. If they’d like to see a counselor without a referral, drop-ins are also welcome during lunch. There is an annex filled with tables and chairs that provide ample space for counseling sessions. If it gets crowded, sessions may also overflow to the room that was formerly Counselor Velasquez’s. The Wellness Center isn’t all counseling, however. There will be a daily theme, like Arts and Crafts Mondays and Board Game Fridays, and students can come to enjoy activities and unwind.

The Wellness Center, new as it is to Irvington, is not an entirely new concept overall. Mr. Honerkamp used to work in Student Support Services and estimates that there are at least 300 Wellness Centers in California alone, all with varying degrees of service provided. 

“I really believe that we always talk about mental health but no-one actually does anything concrete about it, and so this wellness center is a huge step towards that,” said IHS PTSA president Fahria Khan. “It’s not going to be the end-all-be-all, but it’s really that first step to, not only acknowledging it but making something permanent and lasting to actually address the issue.” 

This sentiment was echoed by FUSD Public Information Officer Brian Killgore. 

“Having a teenage daughter myself, it’s really evident to me how much pressure teenagers are under, whether it be in school, outside of it, or even at home,” said Killgore. “And for these kids to have an outlet, in school, where they spend most of their time, to just chill out… This serves to give them a break from what they have to do inside and outside of the classroom. I think that this is a needed service for our schools to provide.”

However, this is just the beginning. Liu and the Student Taskforce hope that  “ the wellness center [will be able to stay] open all day long, until 4 or so. Students don’t get to choose the time of the day that they need assistance.”

“ Just having it here is a success in and of itself, because we’re bringing attention not only to the problem but also the solution. I don’t know really what more will happen, but I think we have a community with resources, we have a school with resources committed to it, we have students, and now increasingly parents too, who see this as a priority,” said Honerkamp. “The admin team here won’t rest until we see improvement. This is ongoing, and it is only in its infancy.”