Stressed-out Belfast Area High School students, teachers to have a ‘wellness room’

Jane Robertson
Jane Robertson
Posted April 12, 2012, at 4:10 p.m.
Kristen Burkholder
Kristen Burkholder

BELFAST, Maine — The former language lab located next to Room 109 at Belfast Area High School is getting a holistic makeover as volunteers work to turn it into a Wellness Room that will serve the entire school community.

Once up and running in the last week of April, the room — and its low lights and soft music — will be home to a revolving group of area alternative health care practitioners. They’ll offer short, free sessions of massage therapy, Reiki, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care to those who need it.

And, according to chiropractor Dr. Jane Robertson of Belfast, a large swath of the school population most likely need those stress reduction services.

“Being in high school is stressful,” she said Wednesday. “Being a teacher is stressful … We’re hoping to teach them, possibly, a different way to alleviate stress.”

She said she was inspired to create a Wellness Room in Belfast after hearing that the former Camden-Rockport High School had a successful, similar program that came into being after a cluster of teen suicides and tragedies in the early 2000s. The program continues today at Camden Hills Regional High School.

“That’s the vision I want to have at Belfast,” Robertson said.

She has been working with Kristen Burkholder, a licensed massage therapist and Reiki master, to make that vision a reality.

Burkholder was a volunteer who offered her services in 2001 to help the grieving population at Camden-Rockport High School.

“I just remember the experience of being in the high school and working with the kids,” she said. “It was life changing in some ways for me. I have really strong memories of being a teenager myself. Everybody struggles in high school.”

Burkholder said she imagines the Wellness Room as a space for both students and teachers to relax.

“To really get back to center, feel refreshed and get some distance between them and their stressful day,” she said.

But the process has been slow.

The women had to get the idea approved, to find a room at the high school to use and to talk to students, teachers and staff members about their plan. Students under 18 will have to take permission slips home to be signed by parents before they can be seen by the wellness practitioners during their lunch period or study halls.

Then they had to find volunteers who will offer their services for two-hour shifts for one to three days each month. All volunteers underwent security screening.

Additionally, Robertson said, participants will all be fully clothed during each session.

“My hope is that students who may not ever have a chance to experience this type of work [have that opportunity],” she said. “Rather than turn to violence or drugs, maybe they can turn to better choices to deal with stress.”

Robertson said she also hopes that students will have an opportunity to learn more about careers in this type of health care. She graduated from Belfast Area High School, and doesn’t know any other students who went on to be a chiropractor.

“We’re hoping to maybe spark an interest in alternative medicine as a profession for them,” she said.

Organizers are searching for more professional alternative health care practitioners who are interested in volunteering at the Wellness Room. For information, contact Dr. Jane Robertson at 338-2024 or Kristen Burkholder at 322-7816.

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