Cherry Creek opens school focusing on students struggling with mental health issues
AURORA | Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Chris Smith said it’s not unusual that families come to school needing help, whether it’s financial or for some other challenge in supporting their child’s education.
At the end of October, the district will begin “meeting the needs of kids in a way we’ve never done before.”
Traverse Academy, a unique mental health treatment facility, will open Oct. 23. District students from 10-18 years-old will be able to access intensive mental health support at the unique school.
The district will be partnering with CU Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry to serve students.
Students attending Traverse Academy will receive individualized therapy while general education teachers help them continue with their education. Students will receive nine hours each week engaging in therapeutic programming at the school, which could include individual or group therapy.
Students in need of help must be referred by their school’s mental health provider such as a social worker or psychiatrist before undergoing an intake process with a mental health team.
They will stay at the school for an average of 8-12 weeks. Students will start their day at 8:15 a.m. and end at 2:20 p.m.
While parents can drop their child off at the school, the district will also provide transportation services. District spokesperson, Lauren Snell, said that the district will likely contract out a “car service” to provide transportation.
After completing the weeks-long program, students will move into a transitional phase that will help them return to their home school. During this time, students will use the tools they’ve learned to manage their mental health in a school-like structure.
Even the design of the building, from the lobby to bathrooms, takes student wellbeing into consideration.
During a media tour Tuesday morning, Kasia Bulkowski, a spokesperson for the architecture firm that helped design the building, said that the lobby was designed to look less institutional. Bathrooms and focus rooms, where students can decompress in silence, were designed with doors that can open both ways in the event of an emergency.
All the doors also have slanted handles to prevent students from injuring themselves.
Rooms also have large windows to bring in sunlight, and a variety of seating options are available for students in the multipurpose rooms and in the cafeteria. Students also have the option of eating indoors or outdoors, giving them agency over their day.
Traverse Academy Principal Kimberly Avalos said she’s seen many mental health facilities close during her decades-long career, making the opening of this one more critical than ever.
“While the nation was recognizing we had a problem, there weren’t a lot of solutions. Our taxpayers and our board of education sent a very different message to kids, and we said ‘you’re important. We want you here and the world is better with you in it’,” Avalose said.
Traverse Academy was initially funded through a bond approved by voters in the 2020 election. After the project went over budget, the district was able to continue construction with the help of $1.5 million in federal money.
“This name is a nod to the four great Traverses in Colorado mountain climbing, representing the obstacles to be overcome to move from one great peak to the next,” board documents said.