DENVER (KDVR) — FOX31 and Channel 2 are getting an inside look at a first-of-its-kind mental health facility that will offer intensive support and education.
It will be run by the Cherry Creek School District with the help of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Department of Psychiatry.
The facility will serve Cherry Creek students aged 10-18 who are experiencing a mental health crisis ranging from anxiety and severe depression to suicidal ideations.
“Having this opportunity and Cherry Creek School District is huge. I guarantee you this school will save lives,” said Cherry Creek School Superintendent Chris Smith. “They can receive mental health services for as long as they need. So if it’s two months or three months, which we hope not but it could be, they can receive that time. We make sure that they are in a good place so that they return to their [traditional] learning environment when they’re ready.”
After treating students with severe to moderate needs, the ultimate goal is to transition them back to their home school.
The whole idea comes as facilities that serve kids in a mental health crisis or have other severe needs have dwindled statewide from 77 to 16 facilities.
This is the first program and facility of its kind to be operated by a school district.
“It’s huge for students and families. I have supported this district for years to help get students access to this level of care,” said Kim Avalos, principal of Traverse Academy. “We’ve come up [on] a lot of red tape, closed facilities, access because of insurance, and this opens doors and builds bridges where they weren’t there before.”
There is a mix of academic teachers and school psychologists, along with para-educators. Jacob Eggleston is a para who wants to pay it forward.
“So in my life, I suffered from suicide issues, depression, anger, and guilt. I was really struggling at one point in my life and there were mentors in my life that were really there for me and supported me,” said Eggleston. “I just wanted to give back and wanted to be there for those kids who once were like me.”
Not only is the way the school works intentional but also the way it looks. The school has features like rounded walls, sinks, faucets, and door handles for the safety of the students as well as a number of group therapy and refocus rooms that have special lighting to help calm students.
“I hope that we’re the first of its kind and not the last of its kind. Because that means the outreach is more and we’re helping more kids and we know that there’s a crisis,” Avalos said. “I am so honored to be part of a solution and if we can hit one, some, many, we’re sending a really positive message to our youth that they matter and that this world is better with them here.”
The district said at full capacity, the facility is expected to provide care for 60 students at specialized levels of care. Each student will have an individualized treatment plan. The facility will operate much like a regular school with hours expected to range from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
This was paid for by a 2020 bond measure passed by voters, for a $150 million investment in schools, $19 million of that was specifically for the Traverse Academy.
According to the district, Congressman Jason Crow supported the facility by securing a $1.5 million federal grant to spruce up the playground and outdoor learning spaces.
The new school is set to open to students in October.