A tour of a first-of-its-kind school that's also a therapeutic mental health facility offered the opportunity to see how a unique design will serve students.
Traverse Academy will open on October 23rd, serving students in Cherry Creek Schools. Already some 30 students are awaiting placement - unable to find day treatment spots elsewhere, according to school officials.
Approved by the district's voters in 2020 by an overwhelming 70%, the vision for this school was borne of an urgent need to serve a fast-growing number of kids facing mental health crises.
Construction cost $19 million. The building resembling a large mountain cabin, has plenty of natural light, warm colors and specially lit individual and group therapy rooms, with classrooms adjacent to see that students in the midst of intensive therapy also progress academically.
Cherry Creek's Assistant Superintendent for Special Populations Tony Poole said, referring to early conversations three years ago, "If you could build the perfect day treatment facility what would it look like and how would it work?"
"When you talk about de-institutionalizing mental health, it starts right when you walk through the door and how you feel," added Poole.
Just because it had never been done before didn't mean it couldn't be done, say the school's visionaries. The Cherry Creek district is partnering with the University of Colorado Department of Psychiatry to offer intensive outpatient therapy combined with a personalized school curriculum.
Superintendent Christopher Smith says the school will save students' lives by changing their mindsets, "I'm part of a community and while I might be thinking something harmful, I'm better than that and I'm bigger than that. I want to be around because I'm going to do something special in this world."
Jacob Eggleston described his own struggles with suicidal ideation as a young middle school in the district... Now he'll work at Traverse as a para-professional.
Eggleston said, "I used to suffer from depression, I used to suffer from anger, and I just wanted to be a good example in their life and say if I got through it so can you."
Traverse aims to help students understand their mental health needs so they can successfully transition back to their homeschools..
Math teacher Sarah Higuchi says one of the hardest parts of teaching in a traditional school was not being to connect with all the students she wanted to reach, who she knew were struggling to see their own gifts. At Traverse, she looks forward to working with small groups of students and being surrounded by mental health professionals. Higuchi said, "What do they need? How can I make math meaningful to them, how can I build their confidence while they're here?"
While CU Psychiatry will bill insurance for day treatment when possible, Cherry Creek has hired its own clinicians to ensure students can receive services at Traverse for as long as needed until they're ready to return to their home school.
Poole said, "No kid will be turned away because of insurance or the inability to pay, we will take care of their care."
Traverse Academy will serve students ages 10 to 18. It expects to serve 40 to 60 students at a time, with a typical treatment plan lasting 8 to 12 weeks.
The school's name is a nod to the four great traverses in Colorado mountain climbing, representing the obstacles to overcome as one moves from one peak to the next.
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