“Zen Den” debuts in dean’s old office

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By Ashley Facey and Deborah Molina

Due to the efforts of the guidance department, college access team, student union, and wellness team, room 314 was renovated into a new mental health space called the “Zen Den” on November 18. This space, full of bean bags, couches, rugs, and more, is expected to become a haven for students where they can de-stress. 

Alongside new furniture, the room is equipped with new art supplies including watercolors, markers, paints, crayons, and play-doh. It also features aroma diffusers, a Tibetan bowl, a tapestry, and a wall of fake grass in efforts to give the room a more earthly aura. With a blue paint job and green accents throughout the room, Veronica York, an assistant principal, says that the “Zen colors” are meant to be “calming and soothing”. 

The guidance counselors and other administrators had been hoping to add a space like the Zen Den to the school for quite some time. Delila Hasic, the President and Co-founder of the Student Wellness Team, says that “the students of the school have been asking for a place to spend their free time that isn’t loud and crowded like the cafeteria, or quiet…like the library.”

The opportunity finally arrived over the summer, after the guidance counselors won a College Access grant and decided to use part of the funds to create this space. Ms. York explains: “ we were sitting there brainstorming, trying to figure out how we could support our students and what we could do in the building that would be different.” The result was the newly opened Zen Den, dedicated to mental health. Rondell McClary, the Youth Development Counsel, has also joined the room with his own office space. Ms. York believed he was a necessary addition to the room, as he is always happy to help anyone who needs to talk. “He’s someone the student body really loves and trusts and I think he delivers a strong service of supporting students,” she commented. “We wanted him to be able to run large groups and restorative circles, and him being in that space gives him the structure and space.” McClary says that he plans to host groups discussions where “we can just talk about de-stressing…Kids can come and talk about maybe a class that they’re having that might be difficult to deal with and kind of look at each other and say ‘hey, I have the same problem’.”

Senior Cathy Carpio said: “It’s definitely a great addition to Townsend. It really lets you come in here and relax and forget about your classes or deadlines.” Senior Melanie Harster agreed: “I like the furniture, the variety of it. Also the lighting is nice, it gives [the room] a nice ambiance.” 

In the past, room 314 served as a college office, an attendance office, and most recently, the office of Robin Figelman, the dean. Room 314 was specifically chosen to be the Zen Den because “it was a large enough space… [so] we could create it into a student wellness space” says Ms. York. The fact that it was already situated with such proximity to the guidance offices and was already being used as a student hangout spot made room 314 the ideal space for a Zen Den, in the view of its creators.

“We had conversations with Ms. Figelman so we could include her in it and find out the best way of where we could still have…the structure of a dean’s office,” Ms. York said. Ms. Figelman explained the situation, saying that she had preferred to continue her dean’s office outside of the Zen Den room, as she felt that the Zen Den’s restorative approach did not align with her responsibilities. “I chose to move my office out of there, and keep my status as just the dean, as the disciplinarian,” she commented.