Shadowed by two buildings on the bustling campus of Carter High in Rialto is an open space for students to unwind.
Here, the sound of water cascading from a tiered fountain drowns out the indistinct chatter of teens walking to their next class. Sunlight coats the Mediterranean- and Tuscan-inspired landscaping while adolescent trees provide shade.
There is no shortage of seating.
About a year after Rialto Unified opened a meditation garden at Rialto High, the school district on Wednesday, Nov. 6, unveiled another at Carter, the first of five scheduled to open around the district this school year.
“I feel this garden can bring students together in different kinds of ways,” said Avionc’ Douglas, a senior at Carter and a student school board member. “We can make new friends, interact with other kids. At Carter, there have always been cliques, but the opening of this wellness garden can bring more of these cliques together.”
With school bullying a growing epidemic locally and nationally, and reports that one in five California teens surveyed by their school districts has considered suicide, mental health issues increasingly are a topic of conversation on campuses.
Still, many young Californians revealed in a study this spring that they do not know where to find mental health care services.
Rialto Unified officials hope the meditation gardens can be among the resources available to students who are struggling.
When fellow superintendents and school officials ask him for the secret behind his students’ success, Superintendent Cuauhtémoc Avila offers a simple response.
“When you have happy, healthy kids,” Avila said, “they will thrive academically and socially.”
But even high-achieving students have social and emotional needs, Avila added.
Adjacent to Carter’s Wellness Center, the place to go to participate in any number of mental health exercises, the school’s new meditation garden presents another method to foster a student’s holistic development.
“Even as we transition into putting forth a lot more effort to address social and emotional issues,” Avila said, “we know that the stigma is still there, where people don’t want to be associated with that kind of support. But it’s normal, it’s part of being human.
“I hope that within the next few years we’re able to change the image associated with mental health and social and emotional support.”
Thanks in large part to the tireless work of the Rialto Unified grounds crew, all Carter students now have a space to destress, self-regulate, connect with nature and heal.
And not just from the pressures of school.
“Sometimes you have kids who just have an episode – a fight with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a mom and dad going through a divorce, or financial stress, maybe losing a house – and we ask a kid to get here on time and be ready to learn,” said Melissa Rubio, who coordinates the district’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, strategy. “When they’re going through that trauma it makes it really tough to go into a calculus class and learn.
“If we can provide a platform or a resource for them to get that need met,” Rubio added, “then we can send them on to the more cerebral stuff. But we have to attend to the human need.”