East Annex: Mental Wellness and Restorative Practices

Powell Nielsen

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New to Novato High this year, the Wellness Center is a place for much more than taking a nap at office hours. Amber Yang, in the East Annex, has transformed the old NBI building into a welcoming palace for mental wellness and restorative practices. The center is there for students and teachers alike, and even spreads into classrooms. 

Yang, the wellness and restorative practices coordinator at Novato High, explained the main mission of the Wellness Center.

“A lot of it is building community, and building community here at school,” Yang said.

The Wellness Center, according to Yang, is not the only place at Novato High where that mission exists. According to her mission, wellness at Novato High should be spread everywhere throughout campus and into the classrooms. 

“I think that in general, if we create a school where youth feel like their voices matter, that can deeply contribute to people’s well-being at school,” Yang said.

According to Yang, the East Annex is a place for students to share their voices, and have reliable adults on campus that will listen and help them feel empowered. Naiomi Baraban, a student at Novato High weighed in on her experience. 

“I’m there at least once a week at least. It’s a good place, you can always find someone to talk to. If Mrs. Cortez isn’t there, you can always go to someone else,” Baraban said. 

Along with the wellness aspect of the center, it also serves as a place for restorative practices. The Novato High administration, Yang, and School Resource Officer Antonio Rodriguez, work closely together to create an equitable alternative to the punitive justice system for students at Novato High. 

“We trying to implement a procedure that isn’t always suspension,” Yang said.

Suspension keeps students out of school and really puts them behind their fellow peers in the classroom. With restorative practices, the East Annex hopes to achieve better results with students, while keeping them in school. This way, when harm is done, the student is able to reconcile with those harmed and continue to stay on top of their classes. Phoebe Smith,  Restorative Justice Lead Specialist for Novato Unified provided her point of view.

“Taking it from punitive consequence route to a restorative route, which is more so looking at why as student does a certain thing, looking into their behavior, the motivations, and also helping them learn they are part of a community; and that there are measures of accountability as being part of a community. And in knowing that, they take action to repair the harm that’s been done to others,” Smith said.

The cycle of restorative practices at Novato High and other Novato campuses, is implemented to really create a sense of reconciliation and repair between both the offender and the victim. This way, relationships are maintained and strengthened between students and the school, and students with their peers. 

“It’s not just for someone that gets in trouble. It’s also for people that want to come together and build community.That encourages relationship-building among students and staff,” Smith said.

The restorative practice aspect of the Center really encompasses all parts of community building from the smallest of steps to the largest of leaps. Maintaining relationships and strengthening them, even if no harm has been done, is good for healthy relationships on campus. Whether it be student to teacher, student to student, or even teacher to teacher. The Wellness Center attempts to cover all aspects of community building on campus.

Not only do restorative practices hope to achieve better results, but they have even impacted the jobs of administrators directly involved in punitive measures. Officer Rodriguez explained how the new measures have affected his work environment. 

“It has helped my relationship-building with students on campus in many ways…. I no longer have to be the bad cop,” Rodriguez said.

The job of the School Resource Officer (SRO) consists of a large number of duties. Many of those duties are made easier with a good relationship with students. According to Rodriguez, not only have restorative practices impacted his student relationships, but they have even impacted the amount of second-time offenders.

“I can say as a collective effort to have students go to the restorative practices program in lieu of a citation or juvenile suspension. I can tell you that most of those students have not repeated the behavior,” Rodriguez said.

Not only does the restorative practice program create less second time offenders, it also allows students to make amends with those whom they have harmed. This way, all parties are involved and real repair can happen. 

Junior Lucas Hines explained his experience in the restorative practice program. 

“It’s just really nice to talk to someone who is unbiased, who won’t judge you for what your saying. It also nice to talk to somebody without getting in trouble for what I’m saying. Nobody is judging you,” Hines said.

Hines was just completing his three-week restorative practice session and added some insight into the whole cycle of his restorative practice. Hines, who was apprehended by Officer Rodriguez for selling nicotine products, served his sentence by doing a report on alternative methods to suspension for nicotine-based offenses. Looking back on his restorative project, Hines will continue to go back to the Wellness Center, even though his restorative practice sessions are complete.

“It’s a way of relieving my stress and getting the weight off my shoulders,” Hines said.

Hines, along with other students, has made real connections and has been able to fully understand the harm that was committed. Plus, through the restorative practice program, offenders are able to speak with the victims and reconcile. This overall creates stronger relationships and keep kids in school learning rather than at home on a suspension. 

The Wellness Center addresses much more than meets the eye. It is a haven for those in distress, a place to repair harm, and a place to build strong student and staff relationships. Yang, along with all the other Wellness Center Coordinators, are here as a valuable resource to students and staff alike. Next time you’re feeling stressed, overworked, or just need to talk to someone that won’t judge you, pop by the East Annex.