San Jose's Pioneer High School provides students with mental health support

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- School shootings across America have left many students wondering if a similar event could happen in their communities. Navigating the stress and anxiety from the shootings, as well as daily life can be difficult, but students at Pioneer High School are doing something about it.

"Every single time I get into a classroom, the first thing I look is where my seat is to the closest door, so if something like that were to happen, I'd have an exit plan," said Pioneer senior Luiza Albuquerque.

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"I don't think a high school student should be thinking (about) how to save themselves."

Albuquerque, who also serves as student body vice president, came up with a proposal last year to open the district's first student wellness center at Pioneer to provide students with mental health support.

According to a recent Pew Research Survey, seven out of 10 teenagers say they see anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers.

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"That's why the center's in place really, to help students through issues that can cause these dangerous and volatile thoughts," said Pioneer senior and student body president Kyle Kitagawa.

Using money from a state grant, the center opened in August and has since served more than 450 students on campus. The space where the center now occupies was once part of the attendance office, but has been transformed into a quiet and calming refuge during the school day, providing students a chance to learn and practice coping strategies.

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"We're seeing such a revolving door of students coming in for various reasons, various needs, asking for help, and I think that's the most encouraging thing," said student wellness center coordinator Amy Hernandez.

Staff members are available to help connect students to additional resources, including a mental health professional, if they need further assistance.

Hernandez added: "We want to work hard to meet the needs of students, in hopes of preventing violence, preventing students from falling through the cracks (and) getting students the support they need so that their emotions or thoughts don't lead them to make decisions that could hurt themselves or other people."

The center has also organized support groups to bring together students who may share a common struggle.

"You start realizing that people are going through the same thing, and that feeling of being alone goes away a little bit, and that helps make you feel better," said Albuquerque.
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