Council Passes Three Special Appropriations to Expand Wellness Centers to all Public High Schools in Montgomery County

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The package of special appropriations, spearheaded by Councilmember Navarro, totals $8 million

ROCKVILLE, Md., April 19, 2022—Spearheaded by Councilmember Nancy Navarro, the Montgomery County Council passed a package of three special appropriations today, totaling $8 million, to expand High School Wellness Centers (HSWCs) to every high school in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).

“In January, I proposed the establishment of a well-staffed and resourced wellness center in every high school in Montgomery County Maryland Public Schools that would provide a safe and welcoming space for all our students. This groundbreaking initiative would set up interim wellness centers immediately using existing spaces and relocatable classrooms as we work to stand up the permanent facilities over a five-year period,” said Councilmember Navarro, who is chair of the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee and a member of the Education and Culture Committee. “Today, I am proud of the full Council’s approval of the necessary funds for relocatable classrooms, retrofitting spaces, staff and other supports to install interim wellness centers in each MCPS high school. I look forward to working with my colleagues to put in place funding for the long term that implements permanent wellness centers in every high school.”

“Nothing is more important than the well-being of our children, our youth and our families,” Council President Gabe Albornoz said. “By investing in mental health supports and positive youth development opportunities, the expansion of our wellness centers will serve as a place of healing and growth for our students. After such loss and instability facing our students the past couple of years, wellness centers will offer therapeutic services to propel them toward success and safeguard public health for our County residents.”

The $3 million special appropriation to the FY22 Capital Budget and amendment to the FY21-26 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) will support relocatable classrooms needed to provide additional space in schools to implement expanded mental health and positive youth development services.

The $2 million special appropriation to the FY22 Capital Budget and amendment to the FY21-26 CIP would provide funding to begin planning and initial build out of interior modifications for the expansion of HSWCs to every high school.

The $3 million special appropriation to the FY22 Operating Budget would fund implementation of mental health and positive youth development services in MCPS high schools that do not currently have a wellness center.

“We are encouraged by the opportunity to expand our wellness centers. This will provide MCPS with the ability to offer increased medical care and counseling so that our students can be more prepared to access the quality teaching and learning they deserve,” said Montgomery County Board of Education President Brenda Wolff. “The wellness centers also take a holistic approach to cultivating future leaders, promoting positive relationships and they provide social services to our students and families. The expansion of these services will ultimately benefit our entire community.”

“After almost two years of isolation and increased incidents of in-school violence and student self-harm, the calls from our students for increased mental health support are loud and clear,” said Montgomery County Student Member of the Board of Education Hana O’Looney. “Educational performance and student mental health are inextricable. Students and staff cannot focus on making up lost instruction from the pandemic when we are struggling to manage depression, anxiety or any number of mental health conditions, which is why our well-being must be a priority for the school system. I’m excited to see MCPS and our County Council taking the necessary steps to expand wellness centers in our schools, which have been a tremendous resource for so many students already. Moving forward, we must also ensure that the present barriers to accessing these resources, from insufficient publicity to the stigma surrounding mental health, are eliminated to ensure true equity in access.”

“Expanding wellness centers in MCPS schools is critically important for our students and families, especially at this extraordinary moment when social emotional and mental health needs are greater than ever. I want to thank the County Council for recognizing our students’ and families’ very real needs and moving quickly to make these urgently needed services available,” said MCPS Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Monifa B. McKnight. “Providing wrap around services for our students and families related to health, mental health and social services will provide the expanded services that our students and families are requesting. For our students to be healthy and successful in school, they deserve no less.”

Expanding the services currently offered by HSWCs to all high schools has increasingly been a focus and priority in discussions around increasing mental health supports for students to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic experience.

Councilmember Navarro previously shared a formal proposal to expand wellness centers to all high schools, identifying the urgency and importance of providing warm and welcoming spaces that address the unique needs of students in a holistic and culturally proficient way. The joint Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education and Culture (EC) Committees convened on March 17 to discuss the expansion of HSWCs and voted unanimously to move these appropriations forward.

There are currently five High School Wellness Centers located at Northwood, Gaithersburg, Watkins Mill, Wheaton and Seneca Valley High Schools. A sixth wellness center is under construction at Kennedy High School. Mental health and positive youth development services are offered to all students in the school.

More information on the $3 million special appropriation to support relocatable classrooms can be found here.

More information on the $2 million special appropriation for the expansion of HSWCs can be found here.

More information on the $3 million special appropriation to implement mental health and positive youth development services can be found here.

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