Facility at Atascadero High School provides services to all who are part of AUSD
ATASCADERO — Atascadero News was invited to tour Atascadero High School’s (AHS) Wellness Center and its counseling offices earlier this week. The Wellness Center is a free, district-wide resource that is open five days a week and is utilized not only by AHS, but throughout the district as a whole.
“All of the services that we provide in the Wellness Center are free. There’s no cost,” said Behavioral Health and Wellness Center Coordinator Kamela Proulx.
The Wellness Center has been providing students and their families in Atascadero with support and its current model of care since 2016, when Proulx was hired. The center was run under a different model the four years before her arrival.
“Kamela is obviously one of the most highly trained professionals in this field working in K-12, in my opinion,” stated Superintendent Tom Butler. “I think that gives us such a big edge, not only because the background she brings can help a variety of different needs students may have, but in addition, you can see she’s also able to mentor and bring up people going into this field. So that actually brings extra professionals into our equation.”
Proulx’s qualifications include a license in marriage and family therapy, being a board-certified behavior analyst, having her pupil personnel services credential, and being a certified clinical trauma professional. She’s also in the process of getting her certification as an animal-assisted intervention specialist. At the Wellness Center, she builds her staff with interns on their way to becoming licensed therapists after passing their Clinical Psychology Master’s program. She gives them a place to receive their 3,000 supervised hours and fulfill their year-long commitment with a nonprofit.
While the Wellness Center mostly sees AHS students, they’re also available to provide emotional support to whole families and younger students as well. Proulx says she sees a combination of individual students and families for therapy. She also stated that most students who need ongoing support from the center are self-referred.
“They recognize the need, and their taking active steps to address it,” added Proulx. “And so they establish a relationship with one of the therapists, see them on a regular weekly basis, just like any mental health support.”
The Wellness Center staff take scheduled appointments but make sure that one of their therapists is always available to take drop-in sessions for students in immediate crisis dealing with issues beyond what the school counselors typically address.
“This age [High School] is such a dynamic time, and there’s so much going on in figuring out who you are. So we work with a lot of that self-exploration and self-esteem and values and all that,” stated Proulx. “Here, they get to develop a relationship with an adult who is there just for them. We don’t have any preconceived notions of who they should be or what they should do. We’re here just for them.”
The Wellness Center also provides students with daily clubs, which are open to all AHS students. Proulx is the faculty advisor for many of these groups.
“This is the first school that I’ve been in where we’ve had a Wellness Center that functions like this, so for me, I think this is excellent. I love that the board has supported it, put it in place,” said AHS Principal Dan Andrus.
AHS’s team of four counselors, led by Lead Counselor Meghan Vaca, work in tandem with The Wellness Center.
“So we, when I say we, I’m going to speak for our counseling department, so the four of us. We support students in academic, personal, social, college, and career goals. So that’s the comprehensive scope of how we support students, and oftentimes they’re all connected,” said Vaca. “We do counseling with students, but then the extension to that is how do we offer support beyond what we can do in this office. So we partner together [with the Wellness Center].”
The AHS counselors work on a last-name basis instead of going by grade level. Vaca, who’s been at AHS for eight years, said that this helps with credibility and familiarity to the families in the school.
“Our biggest goal is just to let them know that there is somebody here who cares and this is a safe space,” added Vaca. “Yes, you need to have your credits, and yes, let’s support you in your future, but in the here and now, right now, you matter. That’s the biggest goal.”