Improving the Novato High Wellness Campus


Natalie Note, Reporter

Since 2019, Novato High School has prided itself on being a developing wellness campus, promoting the various resources available to students and activities organized throughout the year. However, the administrators that organize wellness initiatives on campus and the students that need them have differing perspectives on what resources are required for students to “be well.” 

According to Michelle Cortez, assistant principal and wellness coordinator at Novato High, a wellness campus centers around the idea of shared responsibility.

“There is no one place, like a wellness center, and there is no one set of special people, like just counselors, that will help us meet the wellness needs of all 1,400 kids on our campus,” Cortez said. “The way we treat each other in the hallway, in classes, the way the teachers create policies around homework [and] getting to class on time, those either support or detract from our overall wellness.”

The collective wellness on campus is dictated by the actions of the people, not just by the resources that the school provides or the spaces that are made available. Wellness needs should be met across campus and this is where Novato High is still working to improve. 

The Wellness Steering Executive Committee is organized to address these issues. 

“[The committee consists of] all five of our counselors and I’m the main administrator,” stated Cortez. “It’s also our North Marin Community Services partners. North Marin Community Services is our partner that provides the small group and the one-on-one counseling.” 

However, there is still one crucial group missing from this board, the students. In organizing and discussing ideas to improve wellness on campus, it is imperative that student representatives be invited to address this group regularly. 

Cortez said it herself, “Adults talking to kids about wellness feels phony a lot but I think that when students talk to each other about it, it feels a lot more authentic.” 

It’s true, only NHS students know what NHS students need. Interaction with peers reveals what would really be helpful for the student body. While speculation made by administrators can generally be helpful, it is still just that, speculation. 

“Ideally we would have a whole student committee process leading the way and basically the wellness meetings would be like “what do you need students, students what do you want?” and then we provide the resources,” said restorative justice and wellness coordinator Amber Yang. “That would be the ideal system where student voice is prioritized along with staff honoring student voice and providing the resources necessary to honor what the students need as much as possible.” 

Yang also acknowledged that while this is the intention or ideal scenario, it is proving to be difficult to execute. 

“It’s hard to find a time when a student could join because [the meetings happen] during the school day unfortunately and then a lot of the counselors are parents and so we can’t really do it outside of that school time,” she said. “Luckily, we really want to start leveraging our East Annex TAs and I’m in the process of organizing a way for the TAs to collaborate and get their voices heard.” 

Prioritizing student voices need to be at the forefront as our wellness campus continues to develop. While it is relevant to acknowledge that students and staff have busy lives outside of school, more efforts need to be taken to organize a student-led wellness committee. Everyone agrees that this is the most important change that needs to happen on campus, so what steps are being taken to reach that goal? 

Due to funding and logistical issues, it is unrealistic to assume that our resources are going to be able to reach every student that needs them. The best thing that Novato High can do to ensure a wide variety of students receive the help they need is to act as a jumping off point for mental health services. The student body needs to be aware of all the resources in Marin and beyond that are available to them. That should be where NHS begins when talking about wellness. 

Bella Dodds, a junior at Novato High, had some thoughts on the wellness campus. 

“[Novato High needs to] provide useful resources for students like links to other therapies. I know that we have a therapist here on campus but the waitlist is so long that the people who need help are just unable to get it,” Dodds said. “Providing links for people to call a phone number and just be able to talk to someone who could actually help them [needs to happen] because Novato High isn’t doing anything of the sort.” 

Lack of funding also contributes to the issue of access to the East Annex throughout the school day. A true wellness center would be open at all times and able to support students wherever the need arose. As of right now, the East Annex is only open for students to drop in during first period, breaks, office hours, and lunch. Outside of those times, the space is used for restorative justice as well as group and one on one therapies that all require invitation to attend. Inadequate budget and infrastructure does not allow for there to consistently be support staff available throughout the day to speak to students that may need it. This remains a major setback to the Novato High wellness campus model. 

“It’s really frustrating because all the staff will be like ‘we’re a wellness campus’ and all these things, we’ll have all these posters being like ‘we’re wellness, be safe’ and then do absolutely nothing,” Dodds expressed. “Novato High, step up your game.” 

One student who preferred to remain anonymous talked about what they hope will improve.

“Wellness looks different for every student and I feel like [Novato High is] trying to provide the tools for most students. In terms of specific cases, there could be more resources for students with different needs,” they pointed out. “Their approach to wellness is very one-sided and provides the tools that are generally helpful but don’t necessarily apply to all students ”

NHS junior Arielle Siegal had some positive things to say about the programs.

“I think having [Novato High] be a wellness campus has created such a more chill, relaxed environment that I have appreciated so much,” she said. “I really feel like I see a good effort from the school, trying to promote good mental health and they do have a lot of resources that you can go to.” 

However, some resources like Amber’s wellness videos played occasionally during fourth period might be missing the mark for many students. 

“Personally, I feel like they can be very patronizing and it can make students feel overburdened,” this student said regarding these videos. “I feel like what she’s doing is very nice and she’s sharing her experiences but unfortunately it comes across a bit too oversimplified in a way that’s a little too easy to digest.” 

Dodds agreed, “I think that they’re videos to make everyone remember that Novato High is a wellness campus but they don’t actually do anything to give evidence that they actually are a wellness campus besides actually stating it.”

All that being said, there is no doubt that Novato High is trying and cares about its students. 

“At my old school, I went to Tam, it was all bullshit,” Siegal explained. “They would be like ‘oh yeah we really care about our students mental health’ and then do everything they could to make it not be a wellness campus. I feel like there was so much more academic pressure. Our teachers here do a better job of talking with other teachers and figuring out how to balance everything.”

“Kids are whole humans first before they’re a student in math class,” Cortez said. 

Cortez also mentioned how she is impressed by what’s happening on campus because, “it just feels like we are all thinking through what our impact is on each other.” 

 Overall, Novato High is doing more than most. The open conversation on campus surrounding student and staff mental health is incredibly important. While there are certainly a multitude of things that can be improved and more student voices that need to be heard, the fact that steps are being taken and the wellness team is aware of their downfalls is an excellent first step. The improvements made to this important program in the years to come will only make it more helpful to the Novato High community at large.