April 23, 2024

AHS Commits to Brain Health

A Brain Health Retreat Room has opened at Ames High School, as the need for such a space became paramount following COVID-19’s impact on the district. According to the Youth Mental Health First Aid Course, a mental health disorder or mental illness impacts a person’s ability to function. The person’s thinking, behavior, and emotions are affected, and the illness disrupts their ability to carry out daily activities like attending work/school or engaging in satisfying relationships. 

Ames High opened the Brain Health Retreat Room in 2023. The Brain Health Retreat Roomsâ„  create a place where high school students and staff can feel comfortable and safe. It is a place where their feelings, thoughts, and problems are accepted without judgment and encouraged to learn new self-regulating techniques. The room is funded by Brain Health Now, a grassroots organization dedicated to ending the stigma of mental illness. 

Since 2022, Brain Health Now has also sponsored rooms at other Iowa high schools: Dubuque Senior High School, Dubuque Hempstead High School, Wahlert Catholic High School, West Delaware (Manchester) High School, and Ottumwa High School.

“We went up to Hempstead to look at their room to see what it was all about,” Nicole Patton, Ames High associate principal, said. “It’s a fantastic space and it was like ‘We need this at Ames High.'”

Amenities of the room include comfortable seats, weighted blankets, dim lights, and activities from fidget toys and kinetic sand to coloring books and puzzles. Students are expected to visit the room for 15-20 minutes unless they need more time.

“Our first and foremost thing is to educate students and be that support students,” Patton said. “A student needs to, unless in dire need to talk to someone, stay the first 10 minutes of class. Then, that teacher will give a pass to that student, which is a different color from every other pass. Once there, the counselor, Julie Bryant, will email the teacher that the student has arrived and left at this time.”

“When a student enters the room, they are given a quick tour of the room,” Patton adds. “We ask if you need to talk to somebody or do you need to simply sit. A lot will gravitate to where they feel is right. We check on them after 15 minutes. If they need 45 minutes, we call a counselor as now we’ve gone up a tier (from universal to targeted).”

If students need additional support beyond what the room can provide, school counselors will refer them to appropriate resources.

Taking care of the whole student is increasingly essential, and that’s what the Brain Health Retreat Room serves to do at Ames High. Studies show that 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness. According to Brain Health Now, 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Approximately 50% of students aged 14 and older with a mental illness drop out of high school.

Patton shared there were 145 visits by 72 unique students in the first four months and added, “Next year will be more of a ‘grand opening’ as this year is a soft rollout.”

“At the beginning of next year (2024-25), I think this helps us because I really, truly believe the Ames Community School District wants to serve the whole child,” Patton said. “This helps us serve the whole child so they can feel safe and comfortable within an educational setting, and here in Ames, we recognize that.”