Sykes Wellness Center: First Impressions and Feedback

As he walked into one of the two new classrooms in the basement of the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center, Andrew Cortner ’17 turned off the lights, powered on the projector and began his presentation. Cortner’s presentation was about “Feeling Blue,” an up-and-coming student health magazine created by Dear Sam, Andover’s student health club. Cortner is one of many students beginning to use the new center, which was designed with hopes of expanding health and wellness opportunities at Andover.

The Wellness Center opened at the beginning of Winter Term and combines both mental and physical health treatment facilities, as part of an increasing focus on “Empathy & Balance” in the Strategic Plan. The center aims to be the epicenter of the community in addition to being an infirmary by incorporating not only medical facilities but also spaces for yoga, conference rooms, an open garden to host school events and a newly designed sleep room.

“Kids don’t have to just come to the health center for health and wellness individual appointments,” said Carol Israel, Director of Counseling. “The [Wellness Center] will be sponsoring activities that bring people in. You don’t have to have a problem with your health – medical or psychological. We really will have many more educational activities. The community piece is what we’ll do much more easily.”

The Sykes Wellness Center signifies a shift in priorities among the faculty and staff at Andover, Israel said.

“I think too often we put our own health on hold,” said Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students. “We really need to be taking care of ourselves and recognizing how central [it] is for us to be able to be really productive members of our community. So I think that in some ways, we’ve gotten off track a bit, and I’m hoping [the Wellness Center] is going to be a building that sort of grounds us again.”

By merging of the counseling staff and medical staff, the Wellness Center hopes to encourage students to reach out and take initiative to receive the appropriate care.

“A huge advantage to [the Wellness Center] is having multiple services under one roof, so that the student experience can be enhanced… We wanted to make it a place where people would want to go and not shy away, and [we also wanted] to make it easy for students to access the care that they needed,” said Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director and Co-director of Wellness Education.

The fusion of both physical and mental health services as well as the addition of conference centers and study spaces are purposed to remove the stigma of seeking support from counselors.

“I definitely think it reduces [the stigma around counseling]… people could be walking there for any reason. You just walk up to the front desk, and you could be going in there for a PACE class or you might be sick or you might want to talk to a counselor. Nobody needs to know except for you, and that’s kind of important because it’s really up to you to take the step and seek whatever assistance you need,” said Cortner.

The Sykes Wellness Center plans to continue all efforts of providing services related to sexual health.

“We still have reproductive health services, contraception, sexually transmitted infection testing and opportunities for one-on-one or group conversations in all areas of sexual health in the Sykes Wellness Center,” said Patel.

The Wellness Center prioritizes outreach and works to invite students to discuss and gain awareness of health and wellness. There are plans to host panels on eating disorders, depression and anxiety where the speakers invited and clubs surrounding emotional and physical health will actively encourage students to engage in the Wellness Center and lead healthy lifestyles.

“There [will be] a wellness activity every Sunday on ‘The Weekender’… [that] came with the idea of the Wellness Center. Now, you’ve got your movies, you’ve got your dances and you’ve got your Sunday wellness activity that’s going to happen at the Sykes Wellness Center. That’s something for the whole community – not just for kids who have a headache or kids that are stressed,” said Israel.

Aside from the current services offered, the Wellness Center staff is also developing a new health and wellness curriculum designed to take place throughout all four years of an Andover student’s education. The curriculum will combine PACE with some new courses addressing issues of health, wellness, empathy and balance.

“The curriculum will be some about how we treat each other, in terms of race, class, culture, gender [and] some about how we treat ourselves, in terms of basic self care, drugs and alcohol, eating disorders [and] sexuality… The idea is that there’s a recognition of taking care of individual community health, and wellness shouldn’t be a side issue,” said Israel.

The Wellness Center team is also working to provide more skill-based training concerning drugs and alcohol to students as preventative measures in response to the recent Taylor Hall contraband incident, where several cluster deans and faculty members conducted a dorm-wide search and found drug-related paraphernalia and alcohol in about a third of the rooms. With plans to hold informational classes and discussions on substance abuse, the Wellness Center staff aims to teach students how they can handle their emotions and deal with stress productively.

“There’ll be a big push to do more stress management stuff… It’s not saying don’t do drugs or don’t drink. It’s saying: here, let’s give you a variety of ways to cope with stress and to cope with peer pressure, so you have some options of what to do in those situations. It’s skill building rather than giving you the facts. It’s building your skills to handle peer pressure, stress and intense emotions,” said Israel.

From the beginning, the Wellness Center was designed specifically to promote health and wellness through both the educational services offered and the architectural components that include bright colors and a spacious layout.

“The focus is on wellness and prevention so that students and the community can achieve their personal best: physically, mentally, emotionally. Providing education and information with that focus in mind has been built into everything. [For] example, the waiting room was designed with video capability to deliver healthy tips, mindfulness strategies and wellness education,” said Catherine Golas, Administrative Director of the Wellness Center.

Students’ reactions to the center, thus far, have been positive. The uplifting atmosphere of the Wellness Center is attracting students from all grades, either for health purposes, special speakers, club meetings or studying.

“When you walk into the new [Wellness] Center, you see all the most up-to-date technology. You see the staff buzzing around… They’ve created some new classrooms, where they can actually use the Wellness Center for more educational components rather than just [a] treatment center,” said Michael Najem ’16.
“I’d like to see more thought process go into how the classrooms and basement of the Wellness Center could be used for education purposes rather than just counseling, as PACE classes have already begun taking place there,” said Najem.

Several students also believe that the Wellness Center will inspire the entire community to focus more on well-being. The location of the Wellness Center at the heart of campus, rather than having the Isham Health Center in West Quad North and Graham House in Abbot, makes the new facilities more accessible to students and allows them to visit the new building with ease.

“It’ll be easier for students to access [the Wellness Center] and it’ll be useful for them so when they need support they’ll all be in one place. They don’t need to go around campus everyday…I would use it more if I knew that those two were connected in one place, and if I get sick, it will be easier to walk to the middle of campus and not go away to the edge of campus,” said Serena Liu ’19.

In the future, the Sykes Wellness Center staff hopes to have students use the Wellness Center more frequently by regaining the homey atmosphere of Graham House.

“I bet there’s some nostalgia around parts of Isham [but] there was a real readiness for there to be a new medical space. I think, like any change, especially a change mid-year, there’s sort of a shifting of patterns and routines in terms of getting used to a new building,” said Elliott.

“But the other piece I guess I would offer… I think the centrality of the physical location on our campus is huge. And it’s really important in terms of the message it sends to all of our community members that our wellness is really important,” continued Elliott.