September 2023 Partner and Volunteer Highlight: Teen Wellness Center
Student health — physical, mental and emotional — impacts student attendance. As Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) observes Attendance Awareness Month, we are highlighting the Teen Wellness Center (TWC), which provides free and confidential health services for students ages 12-19 on site at Alexandria City High School’s (ACHS) King Street and Minnie Howard campuses.
“The TWC provides a convenient, private and easily accessible place for teens to receive medical and behavioral health care during the school day without leaving the building,” Alexandria Health Department (AHD) Director Dr. David Rose said. “Having the clinics located within the school decreases barriers to care, minimizes absenteeism and improves client treatment adherence.”
The goal of the TWC is to ensure that each student is physically, socially and mentally healthy so they can focus on school engagement and grow to become thriving adults. The center offers a range of services, including physicals, immunizations, mental health screening, substance use prevention and intervention (including naloxone distribution) and sexually transmitted infections screening and treatment. An Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) therapist is based at the TWC and partners with the AHD medical team because physical and mental health issues are often connected.
“Having a DCHS Child and Family Behavioral Health Services therapist embedded with the TWC decreases stigma and access to mental health and substance use services for ACHS students,” DCHS Director Kate Garvey said. The DCHS therapist also collaborates with the ACHS Student Support Team by coordinating services and providing consultation. “Addressing a student’s personal struggles and mental health generally increases their ability to get to school, stay in school and get the most out of school. When a student is struggling emotionally, it is hard for them to focus on learning and they may not want to go to school,” Garvey added.
A collaboration between the City of Alexandria, DCHS, AHD and ACPS, the TWC is able to provide comprehensive services for free within the schools. The collaboration works because each of the agencies involved are invested in the success of Alexandria’s teens and share a common goal. Garvey believes that the TWC “represents the best of the city and schools’ partnership — integrated care, collaboration and coordination to ensure quality outcomes for Alexandria’s teens and their families.”
It is important that TWC is viewed by students as a trusted resource where teens can access healthcare in a judgment-free environment. The center adheres to strict confidentiality policies, meaning the reason the student is seeking care and the care received is not divulged without the client’s permission (except in emergencies). In addition, parental consent for counseling or therapy is not required, but the DCHS therapist at the TWC encourages family involvement and can help families access other resources that support a student’s ability to attend school. Consent from parents is needed to make referrals and have ongoing counseling sessions with students and for students to join a counseling group with the student services team.
“Over the years, we have seen the tremendous benefit to having teen wellness services accessible to our students,” ACPS Director of School Health Services Robin Wallin said. “The school-based health services provide essential physical and mental health services that help to keep our students well and in school. By breaking down the barriers to access to these services, the TWC is a critical component in helping to ensure student attendance goals.”
In addition to the therapist based at the TWC, DCHS has school-based therapists located in the ACHS King Street campus main office, at the ACHS Minnie Howard campus, Francis C. Hammond Middle School, George Washington Middle School, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School and Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School.
Access the Teen Wellness Center and the Alexandria Behavioral Health Services for Children and Families for additional information or to make an appointment. The TWC looks forward to opening a full-service clinic at the new Minnie Howard campus in the fall of 2024, serving Alexandria’s teens year round on both ACHS campuses.
- Alexandria City High School
- Partner & Volunteer Highlight
- The City of Alexandria
- health and wellness