Newberg High School completes a dedicated mental health wing for its students

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Graphic photo: gary allen
NHS vice principal Tony Buckner discusses a student in crisis with Robert Morris, a youth counselor with Yamhill County, at the school's mental health wing soon after Buckner received word that the student needed help.

Tucked into a quiet corridor of Newberg High School, a new resource for students is taking shape. Three therapeutic rooms, a conference room and a group room comprise a dedicated mental health wing for students, where school counselors and administrators team up with outside providers to address a variety of mental health needs.

On Sept. 19, vice principal Tony Buckner was giving a tour of what the school is calling the "wellness center" when he received a message on his phone. A student was in crisis and needed immediate mental health assistance.

Buckner popped into the nearby office of Robert Morris, a youth counselor with Yamhill County who spends part of his week providing therapy services at the high school. Buckner explained the situation to Morris, who made his way to the main office to meet up with the student in need.

In years past, this type of assistance wasn't available to students at NHS. The high school would receive a message like the one Buckner did and immediately send the student to the hospital for further evaluation and treatment. That, Buckner said, would often create a stressful and sometimes financially strenuous situation for the student and their family.

Now, students have an immediate resource in the school that can branch out into connections with other providers in the area.

"We went from kids showing up at our door after two weeks of us not knowing where they are to being involved nearly every step of the way," Buckner said. "Kids are coming back to school the next day in some cases. Before, we would send kids to the emergency department at the hospital and not see them for a week or two. This process is much better for the kids and gives them access to what they need, regardless of the severity of their situation."

The high school is embracing a renewed focus on mental health by establishing partnerships with Yamhill County, Providence Newberg Medical Center, Lutheran Community Services and others. Buckner acknowledged that a collaborative approach to mental health takes some legwork – namely getting all of the outside providers to share information with one another – but so far it has proven effective at identifying students with mental health challenges and linking them with necessary services.

Providers are also meeting monthly with NHS administrators and counselors to discuss high-risk students and those dealing with mental health issues or suicidal ideation. Elise Yarnell, senior manager of Yamhill County operations at Providence and a Newberg City Council member, has been among those leading the effort.

"Providence began offering therapy services at Newberg and Catalyst high schools in the spring of 2017, and the idea at that point was to provide high risk assessment for students expressing suicidal ideation," Yarnell said. "It has inspired a number of a community partners to be a part of the Newberg School District's strategic approach to mental health. The county has been a strong partner and also provides help at the school. Providence has three on-site mental health professionals overseen by Providence mental health."

The Community Wellness Collective – formed in 2018 to provide Newberg and the surrounding area with information and access to mental health services – handles much of the administrative side of the high school's wellness center. Conveniently located near the school's resource room, the wellness center serves students with therapy and counseling services – along with group classes and sports psychology seminars – and provides what Buckner called a "welcoming environment" for kids who need it.

It's a strong start and is three school years in the making, but Buckner said the school strives to do even more for students in this realm.

"The end goal is to have a separate building open to the community and students to come and get the resources and help they need," Buckner said. "Right now, we're on our way with an entire part of our building dedicated to this."

Yarnell commended Buckner's advocacy for expanded mental health services in the high school, as he has been on the front lines of this endeavor along with Luke Neff, district director of strategic partnerships, and "countless" others. It has been a collaborative journey to this point, with plenty of work ahead to address a crisis that impacts students in Newberg and Oregon at large.

"We really acknowledge the extreme need of all adolescents in Newberg and around the state," Yarnell said. "We are 49th out of 50 in access to mental health treatment for adolescents, so we're hoping to do our part to buck that trend and inspire other providers to help as well."

School briefs

Local students make OSU honor roll

A pair of students from the Newberg area made the honor roll at Oregon State University during the summer term, achieving above a 3.5 GPA in their classes. Sabrina Denton, a senior biology major, and Kelsi Mickelsen, a junior anthropology major, were the Newberg natives who achieved the honor.

Just 532 students out of a student population of more than 31,000 earned the distinction at OSU, which requires 12 credits of classes for eligibility.

Local student graduates from Fort Hays State

Newberg resident David Madrigal graduated from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., over the summer. Hays received a bachelor's degree in general studies with a focus on general business. A total of 534 students graduated during the summer term from the school, which has a student population of 4,500 on campus and more than 7,000 online.

Mabel Rush holiday bazaar approaching

Mabel Rush Elementary School is inviting local artisans, crafters and small home-based businesspeople to attend its upcoming holiday bazaar.

The eighth annual event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 9 at the elementary school, located at 1441 Deborah Road.

Those interested in being a vendor may email Kara Davidhi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 971-400-7856.

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