The CHS Teen Center: A Hidden Safe Haven
Nestled in the back corner of Clifton High School, surrounded by an explosion of art, and behind the safety of a plain wooden door exists a safe haven for students. It is a place in which teenagers can learn, teach, examine, discuss, and heal- and yet, it remains largely unknown or unexplored by a majority of the student body.
Open to students throughout their lunch periods and after school until at least 5 p.m. five days a week, the CHS Teen Center is tailored towards student needs, providing services that cannot be accessed anywhere else in the school. Not only is there a full-time licensed mental health clinician who specializes in adolescent and family issues and after-school peer and teacher tutoring on a myriad of academic subjects, but they also offer employment assistance, college advertisement workshops that guide students through choosing and applying for high education, SAT prep, and daily programs throughout each lunch period that cover a variety of topics such as study skills, healthy lifestyles, and time management. Each service is free of charge, with the only requirement being that students under sixteen have a parent or guardian sign a consent form that is given upon entry into the room.
The Clifton High Teen Center is funded through partnership with the New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF). The NJCDC is a private, non-profit agency that, with funding from the DCF, provides the School-Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) to CHS, which seeks to set students on the path towards healthy lifestyles and coping mechanisms to equip them with the skills necessary to continue pursuing further education or employment. Along with the many presentations and courses already available at the center, SBYSP hosts a series of community collaborators who offer various workshops and counseling sessions including programs such as Straight and Narrow for substance abuse and drug treatment or Family Life Institute to educate people on balancing familial, financial, and health issues.
While the many programs and specialists aid in the Teen Center acting as a refuge for individuals, it is also the connections the students build within its four walls that cement the space as a safe and welcoming one. During their lunch period, students will file in, preparing for a tutoring session with a fellow student, sitting down for the daily Program of the Day, or simply escaping from the hustle and bustle that is inevitable in a school with nearly 3,000 students to dine with students from all walks of life. Semi-regular Teen Center patron, Natalia Rivera says it is a “small community where people can come together and relax, getting away from the stress of the school” and although she has only been a handful of times, she has already learned how to write a resume and apply for a job.
The library is not available to pupils during lunch and while it is open after school, it is consistently packed with students and meetings, as are many places within the school- everywhere besides the Teen Center. In CHS’s first year back from virtual learning, Junior Ellen Camacho-Walsh found the space as an alternative to the cramped lunchrooms. “I was still very worried about COVID and did not want to be in the lunchrooms where everyone removed their masks to eat,” she stated, “so I found the Teen Center. It’s a safe space…it’s just easy.” Now, Ellen works as a peer tutor with the program, helping students ranging from Freshmen to Juniors with subjects such as Pre-Calculus, Algebra I and II, English, Biology, Chemistry, and History.
The Teen Center at Clifton High School is nothing less than a hidden gem, unseen and untouched by far too many students - hundreds who could likely greatly benefit from the resources provided within the program. Nonetheless, for those who do find their way to the furthermost door in the South Wing, the Teen Center remains a shelter for all those in need of one and a place of creativity, acceptance, guidance, and most of all, support.
The CHS Teen Center is located in South Wing, near the upper gyms, and is room number G-21A. Students may ask to visit during their lunch periods or after school. Students under 16 will receive a permission slip upon entry that must be signed by a guardian and returned to the center upon their next visit.
For more information regarding the Teen Center, you contact these sources:
Check out the Teen Center calendar for the month of May here.