How in-school wellness centers can help support student resilience

In late 2021, the Marshall wildfire devastated Colorado — becoming the most destructive fire in the state’s history. A thousand students and a hundred staff members in the Boulder Valley School District lost their homes. With the additional impact of COVID-19, and a mass shooting earlier that year in Boulder, many students were hurting.

For students in Colorado, it became clear there were continued and long-term mental health needs beyond the more immediate, reactive support. To address this and provide a more integrated effort, Impact on Education, a 40-year-old organization with deep roots in the community, opened a wellness center at Monarch High School. Within a year this expanded to six total local high schools. The wellness centers came about the help of a total of $116,000 in grants from UnitedHealthcare and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

The wellness centers are based around the specific needs of students. Each center is staffed with a mental health professional to support students as they walk through the door, and provide referrals to other mental health professionals, if they need it. But it can also just be a place to de-stress and calm down.

The wellness centers are not a substitute for further support, but act as an entry point for students to get what they need on their own terms. This can help build up resiliency and be a source for navigating interpersonal issues with other kids — with added support, if they want it.

Not only have the wellness centers had an impact with students — it has also had a ripple effect with teachers and staff.

“Schools are thrilled to have the resource,” said Allison Billings, Executive Director of Impact on Education. "There's a lot of promise in this model and that's why we're committed to not just funding it, but studying it and understanding how to best roll it out."

In the fall 2023 semester, there were over 7,700 visits to the wellness centers by 1,200 students. Recent reporting has shown that more than half of those who have visited have come back multiple times.

“We are proud to support Impact on Education’s work to provide mental health services to students in the Boulder Valley School District,” said Patrick Gordon, CEO of Rocky Mountain Health Plans. “We believe that all students deserve access to quality behavioral health care, and we are committed to helping make that a reality.”

Wellness centers like those found in the Boulder area — and supported by UnitedHealthcare and Rocky Mountain Health Plans — can be one part of the solution for students to help create a healthier foundation for the rest of their lives.

"Students are served and supported simply by being in the room,” says Tess Amer, a mental health professional that works in a BVSD wellness center. “Impact on Education saw a problem and developed a tangible solution to address mental health where students are — in the schools.” 

Sign up to get the latest news from the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom