The Circle Voice

Inside the Wellness Center

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This year marks the formal opening of the Wellness Center. Inside the suite are fluffy cushions for relaxing, board games, meditation pillows, yoga mats, and prayer books, courtesy of Chaplain Christopher Whiteman. In addition, students may use “decompression rooms” to chat with peer counselors, enjoy a quick yoga session or simply relax. The Wellness Center accommodates any student’s needs.  The only purpose, says Wellness Coordinator Barbara Cheeks, is to provide a place “where kids can go to destress.” That’s it.

The only hard rule is no homework. Students are all too aware of how homework here can consume our lives. We do it in the Dining Hall at breakfast, on buses to athletic games, and during conference. Mrs. Cheeks says she’s witnessed students doing homework on sides of fields, during practices and even during morning chapel service. The aim of the center is to take away this compulsive desire from the students. When students are in the Wellness Center, says Mrs. Cheeks, they shouldn’t feel guilty about not working because the option of working is taken away.

The Center will be molded and shaped by the community and based on student needs as they arise. Mrs. Cheeks hopes to use the peer counselors as intermediaries between the student body and the department. She says that, “if they want to change something in the classes that we’re doing, we change it. If they see something in the Wellness Center that’s not working, I’ll do my best to change it.”

Aside from relaxation, students will be able to find mental health help in the Wellness Center. Peer counselors will hold office hours once a week, from 7 to 10 p.m. Eventually, students may be able to sign up for such sessions online through myGroton. Director of Wellness Sheila Fritz-Ellis will travel between both the Schoolhouse counseling suites and the Wellness Center, while Mrs. Cheeks works at the center on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, assisted by interns.

While the Wellness Center is meant to cater to students and help alleviate stress, students don’t seem to be making much use of it yet, except for the peer counselors who have weekly mandatory meetings in the Wellness Center for training. Peer counselor Dashy Rodriguez ‘19 says that “students are always surrounded by a stressful, homework environment. In your room, in the old library, in the new library, in the schoolhouse, there is always stress. The Wellness Center is instantly calming because you just can’t.” Autumn Johnson ‘19, also a peer counselor, describes the space as “freeing” – although neither have ever seen non-counselors using the space.

Macy Lipkin ‘18 thinks the problem is one of unfamiliarity. “If they see it,” she says of the Wellness Center, “hopefully they will use it, but that’s part of where the break happens – if students never go and see it then they will disregard it.”

The Mindfulness and Meditation Club and the Active Minds Club, two student-driven initiatives falling under the Wellness umbrella, will meet in the Wellness Center. The heads of the Mindfulness Club, Addie Newsome ‘18 and Arabella Peters ‘18, spent hours learning meditation techniques from Sammy Goodrich, the wife of English teacher Ted Goodrich. Arabella says that meditation has helped her “create a healthy coping mechanism and mindspace to deal with the stress of our environment.” The club itself will feature both a meditation and a short yoga session. Active Minds is a charter program designed to destigmatize mental health issues. While Wellness team members had hoped to open a chapter last year, they were unable to. Once Groton starts its chapter, it will be the second independent school in the nation to sponsor such a program.

 

All-in-all, the Wellness Center is a place where students can resign from Groton’s constant hustle and bustle and take some time for themselves, whether through a vigorous game of Monopoly with friends or a few moments of solitary silence. Mrs. Cheeks wants students “to enjoy being with people or taking time out and spending time by yourself.”

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