Jessica Colvin and her Wellness Revolution

Shyla Lensing

Jessica Colvin, founder and director of TUHSD Wellness, at Redwood’s Wellness Center.

“School is where kids learn life,” Jessica Colvin, founder and director of the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) Wellness program said. “Life isn’t just about math and science … we have to teach students about health and substance abuse. Now more than ever, mental health is the key to a student’s success.”

Colvin’s solution to the lack of real-world education for teens is creating high school Wellness Centers, spaces with accessible mental and sexual health education. The centers also provide teens with school support beyond academics, an aspiration originating from Colvin’s own rocky high school experience.

“[At my high school] there were no conversations about mental health or any of the topics that Wellness talks about, so there was a lot of misinformation being shared,” she said. “[Fortunately] most of my good friends are still alive and made it through that tumultuous time, [but we did] have a couple of people that died by drunk driving and we had somebody overdose.” 

Invested in changing the teenage health narrative while also inspired by her father’s impromptu weekend Sex Ed classes, Colvin studied psychology at the University of Wisconsin, and later returned to college to earn her master’s degree in social work. Soon after, she was hired by the San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) new health department. With Colvin as an administrator, SFUSD expanded the concept of their “Wellness Centers,” spaces centered around students’ physical, sexual and mental health needs, and opened up successful centers across the district. Eventually, her desire to get direct feedback from teenagers led Colvin to become a Wellness coordinator at Galileo Academy, an on-site personnel assisting students daily.

In this new role, she met Jen Kenny-Baum, the coordinator for Abraham Lincoln High School. Kenny-Baum later became Redwood’s Wellness coordinator, joining Colvin’s efforts in January 2015. Kenny-Baum spoke to Colvin’s leadership and initiative from working alongside her.

“I knew then, years ago, what I really enjoyed about working with [Colvin] is her willingness to collaborate and share what she was doing,” Kenny-Baum said. “I could grab on and use some of her ideas, adapting them for my [school].”

After nine years at SFUSD, TUHSD contacted Colvin, asking if she would lead their Wellness initiative. While the prospect of this job was promising, the idea of having minimal interactions with TUHSD students and working at a desk all day became a potential limitation.

“One of the big things that I told [TUHSD] in coming over was that I have to stay connected to their students,” Colvin said. 

Wellness’ lounge room which includes couches, inspirational photos, and stress relief activities, all elements created through student input.

Thus, when Colvin eventually accepted, she spent her first TUHSD year assessing Redwood, surveying students, parents and teachers to ensure that she could create a Wellness Center specific to Redwood’s community needs. Eventually, through funding from the Parent Teacher Student Association, local businesses and the Redwood foundation, construction began.

One year later, in 2016, TUHSD’s first Wellness Center opened its doors to students. However, in the weeks following the center’s opening, no one came. Just a few months after its launch, budget cuts put the entire program in jeopardy.

“It’s really hard to ask people to believe in you when you haven’t been there for that long,” Kenny-Baum said. “It’s scary to [ask the community,] ‘Can you take a chance on us, on this?’”

Colvin and Kenny-Baum continued to fight for the Wellness Center, using the restorative and student-welcoming activities that had garnered success before. The two also began promoting the sexual health clinic for birth control and pregnancy testing. Slowly, students began to trickle in, and within a year the center had over one hundred daily visitors. Ultimately, consistent student support exhibited the importance of the Wellness Center, enabling Tamalpais High School and H.S. 1327 to open their own.

Today, Wellness Centers at the three TUHSD high schools continue to thrive throughout the pandemic, especially with new support groups for LGBTQ+ teenagers and students of color. 

A poster of Safer Sex practices hangs in the Wellness Center, one part of the sexual health awareness and education curriculum that Colvin directs.

Colvin continues to pursue accessible, real-world high school education, creating spaces for teens to learn about mental and sexual health without stigma.

Margaux Buehl, former Wellness Outreach Specialist at Redwood and current specialist at H.S. 1327, explains how Colvin is still revolutionizing Wellness, even almost six years after TUHSD’s first Wellness center launched. 

“I am often amazed by how many different projects she is doing. She’s very connected to the community and to other folks,” Buehl said. “[Colvin is] truly a role model for me, as a woman who gets things done and commands respect.” 

Outside of her hours directing the TUHSD Wellness centers, Colvin is working on a non-profit aiming to introduce Wellness to other schools across the country. 

“My dream is to bring this [Wellness] model … to as many schools as possible,” Colvin said. “It’s my project, my passion, and [right now] it’s only at infancy.”

To learn more about the Wellness Center, visit their website or Instagram, @redwood.wellness.