Brain Health Retreat Room
Opens at Wahlert Catholic High School
Holy Family Catholic Schools has always taken a holistic approach to education – understanding that nourishment of the mind and body should accompany nourishment of the spirit. This year, with the unveiling of a new Brain Health Retreat Room at Wahlert Catholic High School, students have a safe space to prioritize their well-being.
“The only things I’ve heard are expressions of relief that we have this space,” said Molly Menster, Holy Family Brain Health Liasion. “It’s very beautiful and very beautifully furnished. I can’t take credit; this is thanks to Debi and Andy Butler and Brain Health Now. This was their vision.”
Open to Wahlert students and Holy Family staff, the Brain Health Retreat Room allows its visitors a space for a quick break to reset, relax and regulate feelings and emotions. While in the room, students will work on strategies to assist in social-emotional regulation such as breathing techniques, grounding techniques, problem-solving skills, prayer, meditation, or maybe they just need a quiet space to gather thoughts. They will be supported in building specific skills and coping strategies that help to get them regulated and back to class.
Menster says her charge is to simply facilitate the environment to be conducive to a positive experience for the visitors.
“I would say it’s really creating and maintaining a safe designated space where students and staff can come to tend to their brain health – a place where they can practice self-regulation and get back to a sense of well-being.
“What I love about this is that one of the main aspects of my job is presence. I am a presence in this room; I get to hold this space for people. I like how organic and fluid it is and how every day is different. I don’t know who’s coming through the door or what particular experience has brought them here. I have always loved working with high school students.”
Menster is a former campus minister and religion teacher at Assumption High School. And while she holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work and has served as a clinical therapist, she describes her new role in a less formal way.
“It’s not therapy. I’m really a companion as they learn about themselves and learn what can help them to be their best and feel their best.”
How does the Brain Health Retreat Room work?
Students may self-refer or be referred to the Brain Health Retreat Room by a teacher or school counselor. Bright green lanyards in each classroom serve as the indication to a teacher that the student feels the need to utilize the space.
“Students can guard that lanyard or they can wear it with pride,” said Menster. “They have a choice about how discreet they want to be when coming here.”
When students arrive, they scan their student ID to note the time of arrival. They then complete a survey that encourages reflection on their feelings and emotions and the purpose of their visit. Students can stay for a few minutes or up to 30 minutes. Upon leaving, they again scan their ID and complete an exit survey.
“The unspoken benefit of this survey is that it prompts them to be reflective about how they are feeling and their reasons for coming. It also helps to gauge if there is any difference in how they are feeling on the way out and how they spent their time. I’m really excited about how that’s set up.”
Many students who come in just want a quiet space to sit. The room offers tall-back chairs for privacy and weighted blankets for calming comfort. However, based on the unique needs of each visitor, there are numerous resources available such as manipulatives and fidgets, notepads for journaling or doodling, coloring books and Squishmallows. Depending on what helps them feel calm, students might use a diffuser for aroma therapy, listen to music on headphones or even engage in some form of movement; yoga mats, tension bands and massagers are available. And of course, the space is conducive to prayer, providing a Bible, rosaries and a crucifix. A hot beverage or a healthy snack might also be what’s called for and can be found readily available in the Brain Health Retreat Room.
“Many just come and sit quietly. Usually, about 5 minutes in, I’ll saunter over and ask what brought them in to gauge whether they want to talk or if this is a time they just need to be alone. What I am noticing is that many students feel pressure to talk, but I don’t expect it. I try to encourage them to really check in with what they need and why they’ve come. That’s one of my goals. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear – really check in with yourself.”
A Clear Need
“As a culture, the message we often get is ‘deal with it.’ I don’t think that helps, and it’s certainly not teaching or preparing people for the challenges that we face. For some, their faith is their foundation, and it really carries them through. And for some, something other may be needed. That’s not a sign of failure in faith. And that could interfere with a person’s desire to use the space. Rather, this room lends itself to understanding how you are feeling and what you need in this moment.”
Research has revealed access to brain health resources as one of Dubuque’s most critical challenges, and national studies amplify the need to address children’s brain health, specifically. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80 percent of U.S. students report feeling stressed sometimes or often, while 34 percent say they experience depression. Furthermore, a recent Edweek article states that 35 percent of 14- to 18-year-olds experience a brain health crisis each year. The necessity and appeal of a space like Wahlert’s Brain Health Retreat Room are clear.
“The positive response from students is overwhelming,” said Menster. “I hear over and over again that this is so needed.”
Visit the Wahlert Catholic High School Brain Health Retreat Room webpage to learn more.