Baldwin Middle School's Wellness Center features cozy spots for studying and areas for counseling and therapy sessions. Credit: Newsday

Painted a calming light grey, services in the new Wellness Center at Baldwin Middle School are split into two sides. The right side focuses on academic wellness, and features unique desks, dry erase boards and “falcon nest” seats. 

The left side centers on emotional wellness, and features counseling sessions, art therapy and play therapy. While students wait for a session, they are welcome to sit in bean bag chairs and play at a designated Lego station, or use crayons and colored pencils.

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Painted a calming light grey, services in the new Wellness Center at Baldwin Middle School are split into two sides. The right side focuses on academic wellness, and features unique desks, dry erase boards and “falcon nest” seats. 

The left side centers on emotional wellness, and features counseling sessions, art therapy and play therapy. While students wait for a session, they are welcome to sit in bean bag chairs and play at a designated Lego station, or use crayons and colored pencils.

Inside the center, counselors, therapists and behavioral specialists work with students from elementary school through high school ages.

The center is a partnership with PM Pediatric Care, which provides mental health services for free for all students and does not take insurance.

    WHAT TO KNOW

  • A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Thursday for a Wellness Center established by the Baldwin school district for students of all ages who are seeking mental health services.
  • The service is free to all students and will operate for the next four years thanks to a $3 million federal grant
  • PM Pediatric Care's School Health Program, which operates urgent care centers and works with 16 Long Island school districts, staffs the center. 

"The world is not 1960 anymore," said Superintendent Shari Camhi. "In our school system, we embrace this idea of understanding that it's 2024, we embrace the idea that the world is in a different place than it once was."

A $3 million grant secured by former U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice created the center and will pay to operate it for the next four years.

PM Pediatric Care's School Health Program, which operates urgent care centers and works with 16 Long Island school districts, mostly through telehealth services, staffs the Wellness Center in Baldwin. 

Using a green ribbon to symbolizing mental health awareness, the district held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday to unveil the new center, which began services for students in December, and so far has had about 600 visits from at least 200 students.

Camhi said the students have had a positive reaction to the center already, quoting one 6-year-old who sought help because he felt depressed, but said he felt he could become happier after seeking therapy.

"While the pandemic may have exacerbated this, this is not a pandemic move," said Camhi. "There are a lot of things going on out there that little kids see and they hear and they are worried about." 

The center opens at about 9 or 10 a.m. until about 8 p.m. each day and on Saturdays by appointment only.

Middle school students often receive services during their day at a free period, lunch, or just to say "hi" to the counselors and hang out. Elementary and high school students usually visit the center in the afternoon through the evenings.

Center specialists are able to deescalate any tension that may flare during the day between students.

Dr. Jeanne Marconi, vice president of school health of PM Pediatric Care, said that it's great for the wellness center to be integrated into a school because it makes services immediately accessible for students and families.

“One in five students have a serious mental health issue. Of that one in five, only 25% actually get care,” said Marconi. “And out of that 25% a lot of them for off they don't continue [services].”

Counselors and teachers are able to work together and share a student’s behavior and progress with each other. This way, the student is helped in the most holistic way possible.

Dr. Vera Feuer, director for pediatric emergency psychiatry, and the assistant vice president for school mental health for Northwell Health, said that wellness centers are a “wonderful” thing for schools to incorporate.

“I think every school should have one,” she said.

In addition to the Baldwin center’s academic support and emotional support, a wellness center makes students feel connected with others, which according to research, lowers risks of suicide, addiction and aggressive behaviors.

“These wellness centers are a really great way to have kids feel like there's a safe space in my school,” said Feuer. “There's a space where I can connect with others, where I can go to a trusted adult, that school cares about me as a whole person, cares about my mental health, not just my grades."