The Baldwin-Whitehall School District and Allegheny Health Network celebrated the official opening of the CHILL Project Mindfulness Center at Baldwin High School on Wednesday, February 12 at 6:00 p.m. After a brief presentation, the District's School Board of Directors, members of the administrative teams of both the District and AHN, and guests from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Highmark Foundation participated in an overview of the program and engaged in mindfulness activity.
Dr. William Davies, CHILL Program Supervisor and Creator, offered insights into the purpose of the program and utilization data around the Center's impact since its soft opening in September 2019.
Since the beginning of the 2019 school year, the Center has welcomed more than 5000 encounters. The majority of engagement comes from both formal and informal programming interwoven into academic programming and courses in English, psychology, special education, early childhood development and art.
Of significance is that the Center has engaged with more than 300 walk-in appointments— students who come to the Center expressing interest in support for diverse issues—including anxiety, peer issues, and exam apprehension. Students have access to the Center five days a week during regular school hours and are able to schedule appointments confidentially, such as through QR codes available in bathroom stalls, making it possible to connect privately.
According to Dr. Davies, the impact of an innovative, tier-one preventative model such as our CHILL Project is within its capacity to reach students at early stages, as issues emerge. "Data, evidence, research and experience suggests that mindfulness is able to reduce depression, stress and anxiety while improving focus and emotional health."
District officials believe that the diverse ways students are choosing to engage with the Center in so many positive ways are early indicators of both the need and the power of the program indicative of the need for a mindfulness-informed program with the potential for comprehensive transformation of school culture.
"We have committed to supporting students in their opportunity for success in all areas of their lives: academically, emotionally, and socially," said Dr. Randal A. Lutz, Superintendent of Schools, Baldwin-Whitehall School District. "The CHILL Center represents a significant stride in our mental health services. Traditionally, school services have been utilized only by students with identified challenges. We are only beginning to realize the importance of making these important services readily and easily accessible to everyone in our school community."
The CHILL Project Mindfulness Center at Baldwin High School is staffed and managed collaboratively by Ms. Lauren Szpak LPC, Behavioral Health Therapist, and Ms. Alicia Anderson Behavioral Health Educator. The Center is a calming, immersive environment with soft seating, student murals, and meditative lighting. The Center's visual centerpiece, a three-dimensional tree sculpted by Lilliput Play Homes includes a seating sanctuary within its open trunk, was installed on February 3.
The project is made possible with support from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, Jefferson Foundation, Allegheny Health Network, and The Baldwin-Whitehall School District.
Marissa Gallagher, Supervisor of Pupil Services, explains, "this new approach allows us to be proactive, not just reactive." Students will have expanded access to mental-health services.
Through in-class modules, students will be equipped with mindfulness tools that help them to de-escalate emotions and be present in the moment. The CHILL Project Mindfulness Center is a dedicated space where students can practice these skills.
The CHILL Project Center also includes programming for professional staff, student breakfast and lunch clubs and will include periodic workshops for District families, extending a positive culture further into the District's communities.