B-22, the former home of the ‘Zen Den’, will be re-opening in early October—but with many changes. The Zen Den has been repurposed, remodeled, and renamed to the Peace and Wellness Space (PAWS). PAWS will serve solely as a mental health center, and will no longer also juggle the roles of being a quiet workspace and a testing location.
Ms. Nickerson, M-A’s mental health specialist, explained that the Zen Den was thrown together quickly to meet students’ needs. Nickerson said, “When I first got here, there weren’t clear systems for how students got referred to mental health services. The Zen Den was supposed to be a landing space for everybody.”
To students, the Zen Den was a sanctuary. Sophomore Jaz Bohen said, “Sometimes I’d feel overwhelmed academically and go there to do work. Other times I’d feel overwhelmed mentally or emotionally and would go there to calm down and feel better.”
Similarly, when describing the Zen Den, senior Alexa Piña said, “It’s a space where I could have a moment to myself on days when I needed a place to go that wasn’t class or a counselor’s office.”
The Zen Den was a hit, with about one-quarter of M-A students seeking support.
Although many students found the Zen Den helpful and respected the space, some took advantage of it. Nickerson said students would go to the Zen Den to get out of class, be on their phones, meet up with friends, and occasionally take naps. “It was a little bit chaotic. There were times when the Zen Den was at capacity and had to close, preventing people who needed it from being able to use it,” Nickerson said.
This year, the rules are on the check-in sheet: students have to comply with the device-free policy and agree not to socialize. If students are using technology or meeting up with friends, they will be asked to go back to class.
Now, when students go to the Peace and Wellness Space, they will be greeted by a wellness outreach specialist who is trained to assist students with their struggles. The specialist will guide students to utilize mental health resources, like a wellness toolbox that includes different sensory tools. After 15-20 minutes, the coordinators will check in with students, and ask if they’re ready to go back to class. If students are not ready to return, coordinators will suggest a different strategy, such as talking to a counselor, and then check-in with the student after another 15-20 minutes.
Ms. Nickerson said, “The goal is really for students to be in school, but we understand that if someone’s mental health is off, it’s hard to engage with school.”
Students will be able to visit PAWS starting in early October if they are in need of mental health support. Going forward, PAWS will continue to collaborate with the student mental health council to try to better meet students’ needs.