This year Identity is bringing Positive Youth Development (PYD) programs to even more students who need extra support to thrive in high school. We are now working in eight additional high schools through a Montgomery County initiative called Bridges to Wellness.  We are honored to be part of this county-wide response to an increase in risky behavior and the need for more emotional support services – exacerbated by the isolation of the pandemic. Each Bridges to Wellness school also has a Mental Health Therapist for clinical needs and a Case Manager for safety-net needs for students and their families provided by partners EveryMind, YMCA, and/or Sheppard-Pratt.

The County’s long-term goal is to have a full-service Wellness Center in every high school offering PYD, family safety net services and clinical mental health therapy as well as a medical health center. The Bridges to Wellness program is an interim initiative using existing school spaces as they work to build permanent facilities over a five-year period. Identity is now offering PYD programs and services at the following Bridges to Wellness high schools: Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Clarksburg, Albert Einstein, Magruder, Quince Orchard, Richard Montgomery, Rockville, and Springbrook. Identity is also the managing partner at four full-service Wellness Centers at Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley, Watkins Mill and Wheaton high schools.

Staff and students at the Bridges to Wellness schools have quickly turned conference rooms and classrooms into welcoming and comfortable spaces. Thirty teens enrolled at Magruder High School have already transformed the space into a hang-out during lunch and after school.

Some of the bilingual and culturally responsive programs and activities offered include social-emotional skill-building groups, restorative groups, field trips, recreation and art activities, opportunities to earn SSL hours (volunteer hours required for graduation) and individual coaching/mentoring. We even have a workforce specialist to help interested students develop resumes, obtain summer jobs, and prepare for careers by applying to college or college alternatives. The goal is to serve 65 students at each school site this school year.

While we are focusing on students who need extra help to connect to school and their education, all students are welcome. And, as happens in High School Wellness Centers, word of mouth is the most powerful recruiter as students encourage their friends to join and participate with them. One participant recently sent a note to Bridges YDS Ashley Olortegui saying, “Being in the Wellness program so far has been great. I am glad that I can be in a community with peers and leaders that I can trust.  The opportunities and resources the program has to offer have made my day – the days here are a lot less miserable 😊 thank you for everything you do here it goes a long way and I appreciate it so much.”