Published: April 25, 2024  |  

School-based wellness: An innovative approach to improving teenage mental health

Being a teenager is hard. 

It’s always been this way, but recent increases in anxiety and depression have many experts warning of a mental health crisis for America’s teenagers. Seven out of ten teenagers are concerned about the issue, and no gender, race or income level is immune, according to the Pew Research Center.

Tess Amer, a mental health advocate at Fairview High School, knows the pressures Boulder’s teenagers face firsthand. As a licensed counselor and certified teacher, she oversees the school’s Wellness Center, a cozy and calming space that welcomes teenagers seeking mental health support.

Fairview High School Wellness Center

What is the purpose of Wellness Centers?

Fairview’s Wellness Center is one of six Boulder Valley School District centers where teens can destress, self regulate, talk to a counselor or get a referral for additional support. In Amer’s room, the light is kept soft and low and is decorated with plants and comfortable chairs. Students can unwind using one of the many wellness tools scattered throughout the room, including kinetic sand, weighted blankets and fidget toys. “The room itself is a wellness tool,” said Amer.

“It offers a reprieve from the demands of the school day where students have to be focused and diligent, and it’s also a physical retreat from the harsher lights and louder sounds in the rest of the school building. Students are served and supported simply by being in the room.”

When they come to her Wellness Center, Amer greets every student and does a quick check-in. Not every student wants to chat, but if someone needs some additional support, she’s there to help. Generally, she finds that when students need help, it’s usually to talk to and process with a safe adult. “The beauty of the room is that many students access it simply as a place to relax and destress. Over time, they develop a relationship with me without noticing, and if a time comes when they experience higher stress and anxiety, or there is an emergent situation, we’ve already developed trust.” 

“The room itself is a wellness tool. Students are served and supported simply by being in the room.”

Unlike traditional school counselors who carry a caseload of hundreds of students with responsibilities ranging from writing college recommendation letters to managing 504 plans, Amer and the other five Wellness Center mental health advocates focus solely on providing mental health wellness counseling and support. “Teenagers are experiencing immense stress and anxiety around school and feeling pressure to do well academically,” she said. “They feel overwhelmed managing school sports and activities or need support managing family dynamics and friend struggles.”

The impact of school-based wellness

The Wellness Centers are meeting the need—at Fairview, 40-50 students access the Wellness Center daily. Across the district, these Impact on Education funded centers served 1,301 students, who made 7,711 visits during the fall semester of the 2023-2024 school year.

Students with Tess Amer in Fairview High School Wellness Center

Amer believes the skills and techniques her students learn in the Wellness Center will serve them into adulthood. “If we can teach them how to take a break, care for themselves, regulate their emotions and develop coping skills, then in the future we’ll have a community of functioning, well adults.” Boulder Valley students receive vital wellness services completely free of charge, thanks to a partnership with Impact on Education.

The organization not only funds the Wellness Centers but also covers the salaries of ten dedicated mental health advocates, including Amer. “Impact on Education saw a problem and developed a tangible solution to address mental health where students are—in the schools,” said Amer. “They are an innovative and collaborative partner for the school district, and I am so grateful for their support of our students.”

“Impact on Education saw a problem and developed a tangible solution to address mental health where students are—in the schools.”


Impact on Education is an independent non-profit supporting the Boulder Valley School District. We depend on the support of our community to put our mission into action. Will you help us provide opportunities and resources to students across the Boulder Valley School District?

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