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First-of-its-kind mental health care facility set to open in the fall for Cherry Creek Schools students

Traverse Academy is designed to look more like a school than a hospital and aims to make sure young patients don't miss out on any of their studies or fun activities while they receive treatment
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Posted at 5:50 PM, May 03, 2023

Editor's note: This story touches on the subject of kids' and teen's mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can dial 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24/7, visit Colorado Crisis Services, or click here for a list of resources in Colorado.

AURORA, Colo. — A first-of-its-kind mental health care facility is set to open in the fall for Cherry Creek Schools students.

Organizers said it all started after a small comment made by Tony Poole, the assistant superintendent for special populations at Cherry Creek Schools, who said the district should build their own mental health facility for students.

Forward time a bit and The Traverse Academy is coming together.

"I want to thank you Tony. It's real. Your vision came to life. This school will save lives," said Cherry Creek Schools Superintendent Christopher Smith at a ceremony celebrating a $1.5 million funding boost.

The budget for the facility was approved by voters through a bond measure and the additional funding was allocated by Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo.

"The Community Project Funding process was kicked off a couple of years ago. What it does is, it takes 1% of the federal budget, and then allocates it to members of Congress to distribute that money in the way that best fits, in best meets the needs of the community," explained Congressman Crow who decided to designate $1.5 million to the Traverse Academy project.

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That money was used to add special exterior and recreational elements that are supposed to ensure a warm, welcoming and fun environment for the students while they receive help at the facility.

"We don't want kids to feel like they were coming into a hospital. We've toured day treatment facilities, we didn't want this to look like that. So the money was exceedingly important to make this feel like a comfortable place for kids, a place they want to come when they're in crisis," said Poole.

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In addition to offices and therapy rooms, students will discover a building filled with natural light, a coffee shop, a gymnasium for yoga, basketball and even rock climbing. The Academy will also have classrooms for all grade levels, art and engineering rooms and an outdoor area complete with walking paths and an amphitheater.

"We didn't want kids to miss out on all of the cool things we do in our regular buildings," said Poole. "One of the things that was really important to us in building this facility was the deinstitutionalization of mental health and the destigmatization of mental health."

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Around 19 teachers with Cherry Creek Schools and 15 clinicians with the University of Colorado system will staff the Academy that will be able to serve around 50 students at any time.

"We developed a tiered support with the Cherry Creek School District, just to make sure that we had that customization. There's some kids that are coming here for school that, in many places, would be in an inpatient psychiatric hospital," explained Dr. Ron-Li Liaw, Director of Child Adolescent Mental Health at CU School of Medicine. "Then there's going to be some kids who you might want to prevent something more serious from happening. They're going to be in a less severe, less acute arm of treatment and support. Then there's kids who are hopefully going to be going back to their home school. So they're going to be in a transitions program."

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Organizers hope the facility inspires other communities to build something similar to help kids and teens with mental health crises.

"As of today, we're at less than 16 facilities for 500,000 kids on the Front Range. Kids are in crisis, we have nowhere to put them. They're living in our emergency rooms. And this facility is now more needed than ever," said Poole.

The Traverse Academy is scheduled to open in the fall.

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