AnneMoss Rogers interviews Jennifer Bitton, Assistant Principal of Lehi High School in Lehi, Utah about the proactive appraoch used when designing and implementing her school’s Wellness Center in this Q&A style webinar.

About the Expert:

Jennifer Bitton is an Experienced Assistant Principal with an emphasis in social and emotional learning and well-being. Skilled in Classroom Management, Lesson Planning, Curriculum Development, Teacher Training, and Secondary Education. She has 30 years in education and her MS is focused in School Administration. Jennifer consults on the needs of students in academics and their social and emotional needs to be successful at school and in life.

About the Interview:

AnneMoss has packed this interview with questions every school administrator needs to ask when addressing the social and emotional needs of their students. In 2018-2019, Jennifer’s school suffered 3 student deaths from suicide in a 6-month period – just as they were starting to explore what a wellness center would look like. Needless to say, the situation became critical and addressing student wellness became a priority. Using a model where wellness was preventive and proactive instead of reactive, she and her team fast-tracked an amazing wellness center that fostered community, empowered students, and saved lives (literally!!). Listen in as we cover:

  • The inspiration and timeline for a wellness center where students were already in crisis
  • The impact of COVID
  • Tracking the data and sharing the results
  • Challenges and disciplinary issues
  • Getting (and keeping) stakeholder and teacher buy-in and support
  • Success stories and testimonials
  • School politics and pushback (and how to combat it)
  • Supplies – from iPads to coloring books and everything in between
  • and SO MANY ideas about how to start small, make things work with less-than-ideal space, and how students are paying it forward


BYU Wellness Center Study discussed in this interview

If you click on the time stamp at the beginning of each line below, the link will take you to YouTube for that question. Or you can use the recording above and simply scroll to that time stamp on the video to listen to that specific question without leaving this page.


Q&A:

00:00 Introduction

02:12  What is it that inspired you to pursue a mental wellness center in the first place? And give us a date when all of this started.

06: 28  Do you think that the student suicides fueled the intensity of that fundraising? Is that kind of how you got so much support?  A lot of times people don’t put this as a priority – but it sounds like everybody put it as a priority there.

07:37  You ended up opening back up, right?

08:16  Now, I know you didn’t start with this full-blown staffed wellness center.  Where did you start before you went wellness center? Or did you go all in?

09:22  Did you ever do groups in the wellness center?

10:34  We hear a lot about access to care.  I don’t know if you agree with me on this or not, but we will never have enough practitioners to meet the need.  I think we need more of these group approaches to be able to meet the needs of students. I think there is… they want to do what their peers do, and you have a more controlled environment in which to do that.  And, I think there is more incentive.  There is more of a herd mentality in a good, controlled environment in order to learn those skills.  Would you agree with that?

(Discussion about building community and fostering connection.  Students using the wellness center as a meeting place to meet with friends before class.  Many who once at lunch alone now had friends they made through the wellness center connections.  Sharing hot chocolate.  Building social skills that are difficult, especially since the pandemic.)

13:32  Speaking of numbers, how do you gather data?  Share some of the results.

15:55  So, it was also kind of like a triage system for kids that may not walk down to the school counselor but would go to the wellness center – even if they knew that that was a conduit to the counselor. Because it felt…less threatening?

18:53  So, staff with a consistent person.  What do you think if it was two people?

19:57  Did you have students who used it to escape classroom work?  And did they get rowdy?  And, if you didn’t run into that as a problem – what other problems did you have?

21:14  So, I’m going to back up to where you talked about teacher backing and teacher support.  And it sounded like that was a pretty important point, so I wanted to dig into that for a minute.

22:20  Do you feel like that helped with behavior in the classroom and maybe fewer discipline…less time administrating disciplinary issues?

23:45  So, in terms of schools safety, which I really feel like teachers and students feel like it is really difficult to feel like schools is a safe space for any number of reasons.  Whether it is violence, or suicide, or bullying, or COVID – it sounds to me like it is punctuating that safe space of a place to go and creating that feeling of having school safety. Which is really hard to achieve these days.

25:18  And, I would imagine that you could develop certain programs that would bring in…like those lunch and learn programs, to bring in different genders, and sexes, and if you had body image versus toxic masculinity.  I think it also kind of meets them where they are. I think that it is really difficult…we think, in our adult worlds, well we’ll take our child to a therapist. And we make an appointment.  And we drive them there.  And we wait in the parking lot.  I just feel like that is kind of an outdated way to do things, and we really do need to bring it to them – and we need to do that at universities and K-12.

27:35  Did you do anything around that?  With that vulnerability piece?

28:09  So, you offered support and you didn’t disdain anybody who asked for it. But you encouraged them if they were uncomfortable with it that they did have support and to please ask for it.

(Discussion about grief groups and grieving – and the tendency for many to rush and get things back to normal and brush over the “other grief stuff.”)

31:30  So, what are some other success stories or testimonials that you’ve gotten from parents, teachers, students?

34:15  Yeah, I wonder if there is a way to gather more of those stories.  Like, maybe at the end of the year “What has the wellness center meant to you?” And tell the students that we need your input and we need your stories because we want to keep this open and we want to give people reasons – and the only way we’re going to do that… I think some of those stories would really help.

(Discussion about a project of student videos and quotes for “What I Wish My Teachers Knew” and how the teachers responded with “What I Wish My Students Knew” – and the vulnerability of both groups.  AnneMoss shares that there is a similar activity, known as the “Fishbowl Game” – used to create connection in classrooms.  Get your copy of the free eBook here.)

37:35  What was the format like?  Were people sitting at round tables?  What was the format?

38:05  So, is it still running now at the school where you were?

38:57  So, in the future, would you ever think that that was a place you could plug in and be a consultant for building a wellness center at your school?

39:47  Your also a speaker on the topic because that’s where we met.  I was speaking at Utah Valley and I came to watch yours after the keynote and, I mean, I picked it out of all the ones, I gotta go see what this is all about.  And I’m so glad I did.  So worth it to learn about it.

(Discussion about partnering with outside entities – and how schools tend to like to handle things in-house (because of privacy concerns?)  so partnering with outside entities has challenges. But there are ways around that and there are answers to all of the concerns.)

41:51  Well, dig into some of that.  Into some of those reasons a little bit.

44:44  I think that, when you get students behind the effort.  When you have them asking, it is hard to say no.

45:37  So, where in the process are you now? And, I know it moves slowly.

46:25  One of the schools here has something similar that they’ve started and they have a trailer in the back and that is their thing.  Then they had the students decorate it and what I really love and I want to know if you all do this too, is when you come in  you have to put your phone in a basket.  No phones are allowed in the space. And, I thought they would get pushback from that because a lot of people say “I really wanna listen to my music,” and I don’t know how they address that – but that apparently hasn’t been an issue.

48:28  You mentioned earlier you stocking it and you touched on it earlier with the iPads.  Tell us some of the nuts-and-bolts things that are included in the space that you have.

50:09  You mentioned iPads.  You got all of this through the Foundation?  Or was that through the Amazon wish lists?

51:10  I’m curious what advice you might have for others who might be interested in starting a similar…like you dove right in.  But I think that’s not always going to work.  Where would you suggest are places they could start sorta small?

55:09  What was the purpose of the 20-minute time limit?

55:26  You didn’t kick them out?  It was kind of a  suggestion that they have that amount of time?

57:41  I want to give you a moment to tell everybody where they can find you.  I did put in the chat that we’re both on LinkedIn – we’d love for you to follow us on LinkedIn.  We’ve got our email addresses in there.  Tell us about what your next steps are.

Want more information?

If you want or need suicide prevention training, mental health training or professional development, please reach out to me, AnneMoss Rogers.

For questions on establishing a wellness center at your school or learning more about her speaking and consulting availability, please contact Jennifer Bitton.