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Unlocking the Potential of Wellness Centers

Jamareion Adrow, tbh Producer
Jamareion Adrow
Jamareion Adrow, tbh Producer
"If you need help, know that I was like you at one point, and the wellness center dramatically changed my life…this time last year to now…has been a major change for me, physically and mentally. Don’t be afraid to reach out. My goal is to show people that they’re not alone."
Jamareion Adrow

Recent Independence High School graduate, Jamareion Adrow, was guided through high school with the help of his school's wellness center. Now, he's advocating for better resources and encouraging his peers to take advantage of their schools' wellness centers.

Story Transcript

It had been years since I stepped into a classroom…when I finally went back to school last year.

It wasn't easy going that long staying in one home … that experience changed me.

Before the pandemic, it was so easy for me to talk to new people. I was joyous. Then when the pandemic started, it took all of that away. I didn’t talk to people outside my house.

From the pandemic shutting me away from the world… to me having to fight for a reason to keep going everyday… it was a dark time for me. It was weird to feel known but known by nobody.

My brother’s name is Joseph Adrow. He’s twenty one, and graduated from high school in June 2021. He’s also dealt with his own mental health challenges when he was in school. We’re really close.

Joseph Adrow: I love my brother. I would say my relationship with him is very tight. We get along very well. We always look out for each other, always make sure he got everything he needs. And we always talk to each other whenever we are a problem in each other's lives.

Now he’s helping take care of our mom in our home in Alice Griffith, a public housing development in the Bayview. He likes to play video games, listen to music, and he makes his own music.

When he was in high school he found help at the wellness center.

Joseph went to three different high schools in San Francisco.

Joseph Adrow: It was hard to cope with. I'll try every day. Every day. I wanted to stay home. I wanted to ask my mom, could I stay home? I just didn't had an energy just to go to school.

When he was a senior, the school nurse suggested he try the wellness center. But he was afraid of what people would think of him.

Wellness centers have been in San Francisco public schools since 2000. They’re basically a safe space where kids can go to gain skills when they need to cope.

Joseph: When I walked inside the wellness center. I didn't know how they was going to feel about me. So I tried to not show as much, not show my fear

But Joseph didn’t have anything to be afraid of. He said going to the wellness center was a wonderful experience, and a nurse told him to make it a goal to go to the wellness center everyday. So he went as often as he needed to.

Joseph: To make sure I was okay if I needed anything. And what if I needed to always talk to somebody that she's always there will always be there for me if I needed them.

He learned how to avoid panicking, and ease into situations. It was like a lift that helped him get the rest he needed. His sleep improved, and he could wake up easier.

A few days before I returned to school last fall, Sarah Hui reached out to me. She works for the Occupational Therapy Training Program. That’s a nonprofit that contracts with the wellness center at Independence High School….where I’d be going.

I had already known about Sarah because she worked with my brother when he was a student. But I was still surprised to hear from her.

Sarah Hui: Working with you has been so beautiful. I can't even say. I mean, last summer we were here where we are right now, but you weren't leaving the house and you were in a very different spot

Sarah’s right, I was in a different spot. I was still in the pandemic state when she called. I actually hung up on her. She called me back and I eventually picked up.

She told me she’d be working with me during the school year.

And finally returning to school…I had no idea what to expect, it almost felt like I was taking a shot in the dark and hoping for the best. It did feel good to see people again after so long… but it came with anxiety.

Sarah says what I was feeling was normal.

Sarah: I do think that students are struggling more now after COVID, after the pandemic. And I think that's really affected mental health. It's such a crucial time to be with friends and to develop those skills and to have not had it for so many years is really been a setback for a lot of people.

Before school started, I went with Sarah to an orientation to learn more about Independence High School.

Independence is a small school of less than 200 students. It’s a school with a lot of freedom, and students can create their own schedules.

About thirty students from Independence were there during the orientation with their families. Sarah gave me a tour around the school, and I met some of the teachers.

Sarah: I think that's a really big thing for us, is that we want students to come to school and to make friends and meet people and feel comfortable, especially since Independence is a school that is all transfer students just about so nobody knows each other. And it can be kind of lonely, I think, for a lot of students. So we really want to make it a warm, inclusive environment that people can choose to participate if they want to and have a lot of different options available. So there's like. Boxing club, cooking club, crafting, all types of things.

The first time I went to the wellness center… it was with Sarah. I was there to help her cut papers and make flash cards.

The wellness center is a big room with a few U-shaped coaches, and a box full of stress toys. There’s a snack area, a microwave, some tea, and a big table with pamphlets for resources.

Sarah Hui: So the wellness center has like the traditional things, like a talk therapist and social workers. And then it also has all these other activities that it's hosting all the time.

But at first I still didn’t want to use the wellness center’s resources. I’m the type of person to keep problems to myself, and talking to people about my problems wasn’t who I was.

Andrea Hawn: Here in Independence, everybody knows about our wellness center. You know, we are we we make it known. The students are aware of wellness more than ever, I will say that, in a very positive way.

That’s Andrea Haun, a school district nurse at Independence High School. I met her while making flashcards with Sarah. My teacher suggested I talk to her, and I went to her for tips on my weight loss journey. That started our weekly check-ins.

Andrea: We know the data is there that shows that students who are physically and mentally healthy do better academically. They attend school more often. There. There is multiple data sources that tell us this. And so we but we tend to just look at the things in a compartmentalized way, and we need to look at things in a holistic way. And so definitely we need to bring in more resources and more funding.

80 percent of our talks were tips on weight loss, 20 percent was talking about mental health. One of the main tips that I still do, even now, is instead of diving into food right away…I take a two minute break, then focus on something else.

I used the wellness center to take a break and relax, and I found more ways to deal with mental health issues rather than bottle them inside.

The fact that Andrea offered to meet with me weekly made me trust her.

Andrea never expected to become a nurse…or work with kids. When she was in her 20s, her dad had gotten sick, and she and her mom did 24 hour care for him.

Andrea:  And that was really a big exposure to the healthcare field for me. And I was fascinated by it, and I was actually pretty good at it. And I've always had a desire to help people.

When her father died, her mom went back to work as a second grade teacher in a small private school.

Andrea: And it was very difficult for her. She's in her fifties and I really was there a lot trying to help her. And I really got to know the young students in second grade, in her second grade class, and that was really my first big exposure to younger students. And I felt like I was part of the emphasis on public health and preventative health, that this is where I could really make a difference in really helping students cause it's so important what you go through when you're younger.

That sounds like me and my brother doing homecare for my mom right now.

Andrea says people are talking more about mental health than when she was in school. She says the wellness center in San Francisco is a model… studied by other school districts throughout the state. And because Independence is a small school, students can drop in anytime.

Andrea: we're always fighting for more resources and fighting for more funding to make it even better. But we're ahead of the game. We really are.

Not all students have access to those same resources. According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), nearly 1 in 5 students in the U.S. don’t have access to a school counselor at all.

Andrea: Every district should have a wellness center model like we do.

At Independence High School, students get to pick what’s called a passion project…like cooking classes, bike riding, arts and crafts, driver’s ed, etc etc.

I chose journaling eventually.

This school year I also started creating my own spoken word.

I first found out about spoken word in eighth grade, and It was for a class project where all the students had to write one. And I remember writing one about working at the food pantry by my house and helping give food to the needy. I ended up being blessed to perform it at SFJazz and now I have a passion for it fully.

I haven't looked back since. And It helped me with mental health especially during covid.

when I didn't have anyone to express myself to, I'd listen and write spoken word, now more recently I've written a spoken word about mental health.

Jamareion Audio Clip: Rest in peace John Milton you were right, you said “the mind is its own place, it can either make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven.” My mind had been making hell for too long. Soon I had to come to my senses and realized how much it was affecting me physically, emotionally, and mentally. But I'm glad to say I'm not that kind of person anymore. I'm glad to say my smiles aren't used to just hide my pain. I'm glad to say I've become better at accepting situations for what they are and moving on from them.

The last thirteen years I spent in school were not fun. It was an up and down roller coaster, and I finally made it to the end of the ride. It’s a huge relief…and 100 percent the wellness center made it possible for me to graduate.

Those weekly meetings with Andrea Hawn, the school nurse, and Sarah Hui, the occupational therapist, got me through my senior year.

Sarah says I’ve been consistent too, and continued to show up.

Sarah: You've been learning so much about yourself and what you like to do and really pushing yourself every day to do new things, to try things that are weird, to go to events you've never been to… and I can't wait to see what you're going to do.

Now I’m here…talking about mental health. I plan to continue making spoken word…and encouraging other people to reach out.

If you need help, know that I was like you at one point, and the wellness center dramatically changed my life…this time last year to now…has been a major change for me, physically and mentally. Don’t be afraid to reach out. My goal is to show people that they’re not alone.


Thanks Jamareion, for sharing your story. That was Jamareion Adrow, a recent graduate of Independence High School in San Francisco.

Andrea Hawn and Sarah Hui, and everyone else at the Independence High School wellness center are doing important work.

As Jamareion reminds us, while it can be daunting for teens to ask for professional help, there’s no shame in seeking out mental health services. And schools can certainly do a better job in making sure students know that support is available on campus.

To understand how wellness centers play a role in other students’ lives, we asked the teen interns at tbh what kind of mental health support is available at their schools, and what they think could be better.

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