A ribbon-cutting ceremony for “The Loft,” the new WellSpace for students at Los Alamitos High School, was held on January 12. Pictured from left to right are LAHS Principal Christiana Kraus, Los Alamitos USD Superintendent Andrew Pulver, Ed.D., Los Alamitos USD Board of Education President Chris Forehan, Los Alamitos Education Foundation Executive Director Carrie Logue, LAEF Board Chair Felicia Gonzalez. Photo courtesy of Nichole Pichardo, Los Al USD.

At the start of this school year, Los Alamitos High School opened a new three-story STEM building with a gleaming facade and state-of-the-art labs. There’s another new addition to the campus that, while not as large, could impact students’ lives significantly.

Tucked away in the back of the campus is the high school’s new WellSpace. Step inside and you’ll think you’re in a lounge at a spa, not a public school classroom. It’s a large space filled with a variety of plush seating in neutral colors and artwork worthy of a Pottery Barn catalog.

The WellSpace was created to give students a supervised area on campus where they can take a break when they are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed during the school day. It’s filled with calming activities in a relaxing environment. It’s also where students can speak to the school’s wellness and mental health professionals as well as fellow student mentors.

“Here is a place that welcomes everyone,” LAHS junior Isabella Ruiz said in an interview. “It gives people who haven’t found a place in high school somewhere to go,” she added.

And it was built with input from the kids it aims to serve. “It’s for students, made by students,” one LAHS junior said. Many of the activities and tools in the new WellSpace such as aromatherapy, yoga mats, coloring books and decor, including a giant map of the world on the wall and an artificial aquarium, were requested by students. The teenagers also came up with the name for the WellSpace, calling it “The Loft.”

“By providing a safe social emotional space for students, I hope The Loft will increase school connectedness, improve student’s mental health, and ultimately reduce the stigma associated with asking for help,” Ashley Weiss-Wright, the high school’s mental health counselor and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools.

The Loft has been open to students since early December, but the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last week on Thursday, January 12. It was built in a partnership between the Los Alamitos Unified School District, the Orange County Department of Education and the Los Alamitos Education Foundation or LAEF.

LAEF’s fundraising efforts made construction of the WellSpace possible. The nonprofit arm of the district has donated more than $245,000 to transform the former early childhood education training facility into what’s intended to serve as a calming oasis on the high school campus.

“The fact that this space exists opens up those conversations about mental health and reduces the stigma and that is critical,” LAEF Executive Director Carrie Logue said in an interview with Spotlight Schools last September when construction on the WellSpace at LAHS was just starting.

At the grand opening on Thursday, Logue grew emotional speaking about the significance of the project’s completion.

“I’m a little overwhelmed because we worked really hard to make this happen,” Logue said. As construction costs ballooned, LAEF remained committed to building the space and last year, LAEF’s annual Fundraising February was devoted to making the LAHS WellSpace a reality.

LAEF and Los Alamitos USD prioritized investing in student wellness in recent years as more and more young people have been struggling with their mental health.

During the 2020-21 school year, the first WellSpaces in Orange County were opened at McAuliffe and Oak Middle Schools in Los Alamitos.

Since then, the district has hired more mental health professionals and LAEF has donated tens of thousands of dollars to pay for staff and supplies across the district including to fund WellSpaces at the district’s six elementary schools.

“Yes, the Los Al district is totally committed to the four ‘A’s,’ academics, the arts, athletics and activities. However, this district and this foundation are equally committed to student wellness,” Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education President Chris Forehan told the crowd last week. The board made wellness one of its top priorities in its goals for the academic year.

“When we talk with our parents about when they hear about the investments that we’re doing with mental health and wellness, it really is something that parents care deeply about,” Los Alamitos USD Superintendent Andrew Pulver, Ed.D., said at the ceremony. Dr. Pulver said the district and LAEF are already planning to add an outdoor garden space to the WellSpace at LAHS.

“I feel extremely grateful that the focus is on wellness and mental health,” Emily Ledterman, the high school’s wellness counselor, said in an interview at the grand opening. “I see every type of student in this space,” Ledterman said.

Her office is inside The Loft. She said The Loft is busy from the time school starts until after the last bell rings. Ledterman said she usually gets visits from around six students per period and that between 50 to 60 students spend their lunch period in The Loft every day.

“We all need a little reset sometimes,” said Colby Ledterman, a freshman at LAHS and the daughter of the school’s wellness counselor. She summed up The Loft like this: “It’s a place to heal and to help heal others.”

For more on this story and other local education news, visit SpotlightSchools.com.