El Cerrito High’s wellness center celebrates 20th anniversary

El Cerrito High's Jame Morehouse Project celebrates 20th anniversary
The West Contra Costa Unified School District shared photos from an emotional moment at the James Morehouse Project's 20th anniversary at El Cerrito High School on Jan. 31, 2019.

The James Morehouse Project at El Cerrito High, a wellness center providing on-campus access to medical and dental services, counseling, and youth development services, enjoyed a 20th anniversary celebration on Thursday.

“During the celebration, ECHS students, alumni, present and former faculty shared remarks about the wellness center and how the program has impacted their lives,” the West Contra Costa Unified School District stated in a Facebook post where it shared photos from the celebration.

The James Morehouse Project was installed in 1999 to implement support services for students, families and staff, as well as school-wide initiatives, with the aim of removing barriers to education.

Last year, the center reported 5,041 client visits, 82 percent of which were for individual or group counseling, according to the WCCUSD.

JPM Director Jenn Rader addresses a large crowd at the JPM anniversary celebration Thursday night. (Photo courtesy of WCCUSD)

The program initially launched as an after school program for struggling students under Director Jenn Rader, then a classroom teacher, but there was a need for more expansive services, according to a detailed story on the WCCUSD site. A state grant first helped support the program before nearly $500,000 was raised to convert the former wood shop at the original ECHS campus into a wellness center, WCCUSD reported. After the old campus was torn down for a seismic retrofit in 2005, students, staff and families advocated for a dedicated space in the new campus equipped with medical, dental and counseling facilities, the district said.

After the new campus opened in 2009, the program was renamed James Morehouse Project in honor of the former longtime ECHS staff member and mentor (1968-2003). Today, the center has an annual budget of $460,000 from local, county, and state sources, six staff members and as many as 10 graduate student clinical interns providing counseling services.

“It was my experience as a classroom teacher that a number of students coming to school couldn’t connect with classroom learning,” Rader said in the district report. “It wasn’t because they didn’t have the academic skills. It was clear that there were other things that were getting in the way of their being able to engage with classroom instruction.”

Partners providing support to the JMP include Bay Area Community Resources, CA School Health Alliance, Community Violence Solutions, Niroga Institute, San Francisco State University School of Social Work, STAND for Families Free of Violence, UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, and Y-Team/YMCA of the East Bay.

Read more about the James Morehouse Project here.