Guidance department to create ‘Living Room’mental health space

With mental health struggles on the rise, the college and career center has transformed into a safe space for students to utilize if they are in need of a break.

If you walk through the commons, you will notice a sign that says “The Living Room,” which was formerly known as the college and career center. 

Over the past few years, the college and career center gradually became an abandoned space since it was hardly used. Guidance Counselors Shane Cole and Mario Fernandez decided that the space needed to be revamped.

“We weren’t really using the college and career center a whole lot to be honest with you, so it was kind of wasted space. Even before the pandemic, we were starting to see an increase number of students with anxiety issues, and we thought that might be a useful space for some of those students. The pandemic has exasperated that I would say,” said Cole.

Fernandez got the idea to convert the college and career center to a safe space for students due to his former background. Previously, Fernandez worked as an emotional wellness coordinator at Wheaton North. There, he was able to design a space for students who were transitioning back to the learning environment due to mental health reasons. 

“My primary role was to provide a safe, soft landing spot for students who were transitioning back into the classroom, providing them with space to do homework, to receive counseling, and then create a plan for them to transition back. That was the job that I had at Wheaton North. When I got hired at Addison Trail this past summer, coming into my office, I saw that we had this space here, and it was formerly the college and career center. All the college and career programming that we do as a counseling office is not done in that room anymore,” said Fernandez. 

Immediately, Fernandez saw an opportunity that he thought was important to take advantage of.

“I saw it as an opportunity to address the uptake in mental health concerns we are seeing in our students. I noticed that our office didn’t have a place like that, where oftentimes we would see kids that were upset, needed a break, were crying, and they would be sitting in the middle where all of the waiting chairs were. They had very little privacy and sometimes we don’t know why they are there,” said Fernandez.

Together, Cole and Fernandez were able to join forces and create this beautiful space for students to ease their minds. 

While the majority of The Living Room is complete, Cole and Fernandez still have a long way to go despite opening the center for students.

“We are still in the process of adding to it. We have taken some of the biggest steps already. I think that now, it’s just kind of the details. I would say that within the next month, it’ll be a place where I will be very happy with where we’re at,” said Fernandez. 

Students can use this space anytime of the day: before school, lunch, ATR, class periods, or after school. In order to use the space, you have to speak with a PPS worker. Counselors can grant you access to The Living Room, however, students will be monitored. 

“It’s not going to be a long term like ‘go and sit in there for periods on end.’ It’s going to be…for students who need it [like] ‘let’s kind of get your mind right and back to class,’” said Cole.

Additionally, students will have access to numerous amenities. There are currently couches, coloring books, and a TV that plays a variety of soothing materials, such as a fireplace, meditation, or ambient music. Cole and Fernandez are also working on getting more activities, such as curtains, puzzles, legos, a chalk wall, a variety of fidgets, and a hot chocolate/coffee machine. 

Fernandez is also striving to make the center a phone-free zone because he believes that social media has a negative influence on students’ mental health. 

Overall, the goal of The Living Room is to provide a safe, comforting space for students to reset themselves. While it is still in the works, The Living Room is open and ready to accommodate students who are struggling with their mental health at any point throughout the school day. 

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