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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Cottonwood High opens new teen center to provide resources to all students

Dec 01, 2023 09:01AM ● By Julie Slama

Cottonwood High volunteer Robyn Ivins advocated for the school’s new teen center which provides students resources for laundry, shower, studying, food and counseling. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

It only took a couple months to turn two classrooms at Cottonwood High School into a teen center complete with a kitchen, study rooms, showers and laundry facilities — and parent volunteer Robyn Ivins couldn’t be more pleased.

“We had a vision for what this would look like and Granite School District supported it,” said Ivins, the longtime Cottonwood High pantry volunteer who was involved during every step of the five-month construction project. “We want to meet the physiological needs of our students. If you’re going to educate the whole child, it’s more than just food. When kids didn’t have clean clothes and they didn’t have a way to shower, we knew we needed to help. This organically grew into ‘let’s meet more needs of our kids.’”

Cottonwood High’s teen center was slated to open in November once a director was hired. Access to the center is available through the school as well as a separate outside entrance. There is food in the school pantry adjacent to the teen center and counseling services and resources are available.

“There’s a ‘chill pass.’ This is a place if they need a break, but it’s not like they can leave class and hang out here to sluff. It’s a place where they can get a snack, do their laundry, have access to administration, mental health help, learn about resources, get whatever they need to be successful in class,” Ivins said.

Facilities for students have increased in recent years. Nearby Hillcrest High in Canyons School District added services for students when the school underwent a recent rebuilding. Several high schools in Davis School District have teen centers and recently, Herriman High opened a teen center. Several other schools – elementary through high school – have created wellness rooms for students and faculty.

School social worker Alisa Webb said there has been a growing need for students in all communities to have access to teen centers in recent years.

“Definitely since COVID, we’ve seen a rise in students with needs,” she said. “It’s true especially with housing this past year because that’s when the protections ran out.”

According to U.S. News & World Report, Cottonwood High has a minority enrollment greater than 53%. Webb said part of the school’s population counts for refugees and newcomers to the country and more than 40 native languages are spoken.

“The beauty of Cottonwood is the diversity,” she said. “It also comes with some challenges. We’re trying to answer some of those with the new teen center. I love that students have access right here to do laundry or take a shower. Over the years we’ve had students who had been staying in their cars or haven’t been able to wash their clothes for a long time. Just to have the resources for them to be successful at the school is amazing.”

In addition to shower and laundry facilities, Webb, who provides counseling for students, said 46 students of about 1,500 at Cottonwood have been identified as not having a permanent home.

“Those are the ones I know of; there’s probably more than that,” she said. “Initially, they’ve been identified through the McKinney-Vento (Homeless Assistance Act) questionnaire that asks, ‘Are you staying at a house with another person or family due to loss of housing and economic hardship or similar reasons? Are you living in a motel, shelter, temporary housing or living in a car?’ I have all of the above. Then, some pop up through the year either coming in on their own or someone else refers them. We don’t have a place for them to sleep at the school, but I do connect them to resources. Now, our new teen center will help me provide resources to our students as well.”

The resources at the teen center are available for anyone, the same as the school pantry, which serves about 150 students per week. Cottonwood High’s pantry opened in January 2017 when there was a realization that students were too hungry to focus on their homework during an after-school tutoring program. Cottonwood has more than 50% of the student body who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“There is no stigma with our pantry,” Ivins said. “Everybody comes. Anybody comes. Whether they just need a pencil or a granola bar or kids who can’t afford to buy things, our pantry is open to all; there’s no qualifier. The teen center is a place for everybody. It’s not a place for a homeless kid. It’s not a place for a disadvantaged kid. It is a place for anybody who needs something that we offer here to be welcomed.”

Ivins said having facilities available to all students helps with their education. 

“I love the food pantry and this teen center,” she said. “These Cottonwood kids are near and dear to my heart; there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. This is leveling the playing field so every kid can be in school. I want every kid to have what my kids have; I want every kid to have access to physiological and educational needs, emotional support, physical support. We’ve made that happen and it has taken an army of the most incredible people, but we have this magical place. It’s like Disneyland for me.” λ