Wellness Center Promotes Healthy Careers, Communities
News Center – March 2021
There can be no happiness without good health, and in Shasta County, intrepid educators are turning a mental health crisis into a bold new opportunity.
The region has the highest Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) scores in California. Yet there has been a lack of support for youth, with record numbers of students in distress even before the pandemic and recent catastrophic wildfires.
Shasta High School is putting mental health front and center, debuting a new, on-campus facility focused on wellness. The student-run center aims to provide mental health resources — while also promoting career education — in a welcoming and productive environment.
“It’s going to be a safe place to go,” explains CTE Medical Careers Instructor Cindy Lindsay, MS, RN. The spa-like facility will have weighted blankets, healthy snacks, and most importantly, a wide array of mental, emotional and physical health services. Support includes resources like a 24-hour mental health hotline, counseling and mentorship programs, with yoga, cardio equipment, wellness testing and relaxation training available on the physical fitness side.
The new facility will be a dream come true for Shasta High School students, whether seeking one-on-one resources or unwinding in a landscaped outdoor area replete with ping-pong tables and picnic benches. Right now, Lindsay says, “We’re running out of our little lab with no windows and five hospital beds.”
Best of all, the wellness center will be run by the high school’s CTE Medical Science students, affording learners a robust foundation — and a confident head start — for health care careers.
According to the instructor, “These kids are going to work alongside the medical professionals and really learn how to do health and wellness.”
Supported by K-12 Strong Workforce Funds, the wellness center is awaiting final renovations before allowing learners to explore the new space. Once the facility is live, medical students will assist their peers with diet and exercise analysis while also offering workshops and relaxation training. Meanwhile, the school is exploring programs like art and music therapy, biofeedback, and therapy dogs to help students decompress from debilitating stress.
“They’ll be facilitating the day-to-day things within the wellness center,” explains Makenzie Knighten, a CTE Medical Science program alum who, thanks to the Strong Workforce grant, now works at the school while earning her bachelor’s degree. Both Knighten and Lindsay will oversee students, in partnership with community resource providers like therapists and mentors.
The center represents a timely opportunity to help those in crisis while also imparting critical hands-on experience to medical students. Now in its 12th year, the unique Medical Science program has grown to include specializations in sports medicine and dental, even boasting x-ray machines and a full dental lab. Classes are available to students throughout the district, and starting recently, have been taught on-site at Foothill and Enterprise in addition to Shasta High School.
With a curriculum that includes practical training and clinical hours with local employers, learners can earn national certification in medical assisting and patient care tech before they graduate high school. Even better, classes like medical terminology can be dual-enrolled at Shasta College, giving students an extra boost with early college credit.
“We’ve grown and grown, and students keep on coming,” beams Lindsay, who has seen hundreds of learners in the district sign up for the two-year program and emerge from high school ready to work while continuing their education. “We have a full lab that looks a lot like Shasta College’s,” says the instructor. “So, the kids aren’t thrown when they go from our high school program into the college.”
While increasing numbers of high schools have begun to offer wellness centers, Shasta is unique in that its facility will be entirely student-run. The plan is to evolve into an interdisciplinary learning hub, with business classes doing the accounting and marketing, while culinary students perform diet analysis surveys and teach their peers about healthy cooking.
“I want this to be a school-wide business,” where “everyone is using their gifts to help,” says Lindsay.
“Having the students run it is huge,” adds Kristen Henry, RN, BSN, CER, Special Projects Manager at Shasta Regional Medical Center.
Henry coordinates student interns at the hospital, offering them access to practical skills working with cardiac rehab patients. She also organizes outreach at local elementary schools, and in collaboration with Lindsay, is currently developing mind-body groups for teachers and students at the wellness center.
“We’ve had some huge natural disasters on top of our baseline high ACEs and high need in our community,” shares the industry partner, who believes that Shasta High’s wellness center solution is “really cutting edge.”
According to Henry, when students grow up in troubled circumstances, they may respond to their peers more favorably than adults. And with the cross-divisional possibilities, she says, “You can maximize the number of students that can be involved and benefit from it.”
Henry says the high school medical program gives students a solid foundation for pursuing a medical degree. With all the basics of anatomy and medical terminology under their belts, plus the ability to earn solid paychecks as medical assistants, the program gives learners a healthy leg up.
Says the manager, “I’ve been very impressed with the caliber of their program and with the results I see in those kids.”
“There are always jobs open in health care, and having that experience is huge,” adds Jessica Solkovits, Office Manager at California Family Medical Group, which takes on medical student interns from the high school every year. An alum of Shasta High herself, Solkovits has hired several fellow Wolves after their student internships and continually reaches out to Lindsay whenever the office needs talent.
While fulfilling clinical hours at the office, interns are involved in direct patient care, including taking vitals, escorting patients to their rooms, and confirming medications. As students progress in their certifications, they can also call patients with lab results and give injections, crucial experience for those seeking a jump-start for a healthcare career.
According to the industry partner, real-world training at an earlier age can be a spark for a real-world career later on: “A couple of our students are going on to become physicians,” says Solkovits, and “one just got into nursing school.”
“They hire at least one of us every year out of the program,” says Knighten, one of many interns who fulfilled their clinical hours at the California Family Medical Group. The practice employed her straight out of the medical assistant program, and she continued to work over college breaks and the summers until she was hired by her alma mater to help run the wellness center.
“Makenzie was an amazing intern and then employee,” effuses Henry. “She constantly goes above and beyond, volunteering and serving our community.
“We know she will do wonderful things for Shasta High School’s new wellness center.”
Today, Knighten is forging community connections for the new center with organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. As a student, Knighten started Mental Health Week at the school, and she has helped coordinate the Out of the Darkness Community Walks for suicide prevention ever since.
“It’s kind of crazy to come back here after being away at college for two years… just seeing how much it’s grown and seeing this vision come to life,” says the proud grad.
A clinical psych major with the drive to become a psychiatrist specializing in youth rehabilitation, Knighten is committed to revolutionizing mental health education and resources in underserved communities like her own.
“I’ve always had a passion for medicine,” she says, but “this program definitely propelled me… and expanded my point of view on what health really means.”
For the future doctor, “This wellness center is everything I’ve wanted for this community.”