Mental Health

Oceanside High School prioritizes mental health

‘It’s the best place to relax,’ teens say


The new Oceanside High School Wellness Center did not have an opening day celebration, because it continues to be an ongoing collaboration among the school’s students. The space — which features solo and group activities, mediation, yoga, special events and, every Thursday, therapy dogs — is open to anyone during their off periods, and, on average, 200 students a day pop in to recharge.

Activities at the center are coordinated by OHS’s school psychologist for the past 19 years, Nina Weisenreder. Diane Provvido, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and research, came up with the idea for such a center years ago, in pre-pandemic times, as she was hearing more and more news about students’ mental health issues. With the help of a $125,000 grant from then State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Weisenreder and the teens made the center a reality.

“She’s truly the person that brings it to life,” Provvido said of Weisenreder, “but the kids have brought this to a whole other level with their passion and their desire to be part of it.

This brings me tremendous joy,” Provvido added, “to come in here and to see our kids, and to hear from them that this is a place they want to be, that it’s helping them. They feel welcome, like they belong, and are getting some really good information.”

Not only the students have ideas for the center. So, too, do a diverse mix of teachers who are happy help the space grow. The Dock logo adorning the workshop connected to the center, which is furnished with yoga mats and desks for presentations, was made by marketing students who wanted to lend a hand. The technology department helped set up an interactive board outside the center, listing dates of special events and resources for students.

“This is like a preventative, proactive kind of schoolwide focus on health and wellness versus when a teen is in crisis or having a difficult time,” Weisenreder said. “When I talk about this center, what we’re really talking about is that work kind of repetitively means connection, collaboration, psycho-education, help-seeking and fun. So those are the things we’re always trying to hit on.”

The options for students who sign in to the center seem endless. They can have some alone time or meet new people, play board games, work on projects, meditate, enjoy a workshop if one is in session, pet a therapy dog on Thursdays, learn coping skills and, overall, decompress from the stress of school or home life.

The district has also used its partnership with Northwell Health to bring in instructors who have taught health classes and provided mental health services. The instructors “spoke about social media and body image and healthy relationships,” Weisenreder said, “which is the real key, and then we had this really exciting partnership with a dietitian and nutritionist.” That in turn sparked a conversation with three culinary arts teachers, who asked their students to submit nutrition questions to be answered by professionals.

“I know the students, and know that some of them are very socially withdrawn, socially inhibited, and when they come in here, I hope they feel like it’s a safe space,” Weisenreder said. “And the combination of students who I don’t think would socialize naturally in the cafeteria, they do in here.”

Student reactions to the space have been positive, with many saying that they’ve made new friends there. “This is very nice, as it’s really good for the students’ well-being,” said Angel Martinez, a senior and a student ambassador for the center. “It’s a way to alleviate stress and make new friends.” Martinez said that she has “always liked the idea of a wellness center, and I have even pitched in a couple of ideas here and there.”

Sophomore Sara Fordsman stops by every other day with her friends, because, she said, “I really like having a Wellness Center, because you can come in on your free period without a pass. It’s very laid-back and there’s no pressure. You can do what you want, be with friends or alone.”

“It’s the best place to relax,” summed up Irwin Nunez, a sophomore who was walking in during his free period with friends to hang out.