Teens' mental well-being at top of North County center's philosophy
Before coming to Integra Child Development Center in Encinitas, Julian Maceda, 18, would often have mental breakdowns in the mornings and not want to go to school.
Maceda is a senior at San Dieguito Academy. He is on the autism spectrum and has anxiety. After starting the Integra program about a year ago, he said it's has helped him focus and connect more with his peers in the program.
"It helped a lot because it allowed us to talk with each other about what allowed us to be more comfortable," Maceda said. "And we could be vulnerable at times with each other, of talking about what was personally going on with our lives."
That's what the Integra program is about, founder Marisa Bruyneel Fogelman said. It gives teens the tools they need to address their mental health.
It's something the traditional schooling system lacks, she said.
"I feel as though the pandemic really highlighted the emergency that our teens and youth are facing within their mental health," Bruyneel Fogelman said. "However, historically, our philosophy has been to address the whole child. Because we always say that our teens are navigating two worlds, both the external world that we live in and the internal world that they're working to navigate."
Experts on children’s mental health say the rate of childhood mental health issues has been rising steadily over the past decade. But the pandemic and racial and social inequity have exacerbated the issue.
Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children's Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, representing more than 77,000 physicians and 200 children's hospitals, declared children's mental health crisis a national emergency.
At Integra, which is Latin for whole and complete, mental well-being is at the top of the program's philosophy. The program focuses on mental power, personal development, physical wellbeing, social skills and emotional intelligence.
For the first 20 minutes of the day, the program, which caters to middle and high schoolers, would lead students in 20 minutes of meditation, setting an intention and honoring a mantra.
Friday's mantra was, "Recognize how my mental strength affects the quality of my life."
The mantra sets the tone for the day and helps students focus on what they want to feel, Bruyneel Fogelman said. It helps teens with their mental well-being because it shows them how powerful the mind is, she said.
Kyra O'Roarty, 12, chose to home school this year because she gets overwhelmed by large crowds. She said Integra is helping her with that and working with people.
"I do better in smaller groups," O'Roarty said. "And it balances. I get to be with people instead of just being at home working."
"And this is really fun because you don't just stay at home all day," said 11-year-old Haley Hom, who is also homeschooling this year. "You can come and do your work with your friends."
When the pandemic hit, Bruyneel Fogelman said she saw first-hand the impact of Integra. Her students were able to use the tools they learned to manage the transition to distance better than most.
Now the next challenge for her team is getting teens transitioned back to in-person learning.
"One of the things that we saw as a result of the pandemic and that long stretch of isolation is so many of the teens that have come here that we've worked with have developed social phobia," she said. "(It's when) students, in general, feel unsafe leaving the house because they've been isolated for so long."
To help with this, Integra plans several outings, such as going to get gelato or boba. That allows students to come together and talk through their feelings and thoughts.