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South Valley Journal

Southland Elementary students doing well with new Wellness Room

Oct 21, 2020 01:27PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students chose from a variety of tools depending on their mood and needs. (Lisa Jackson/Southland Elementary)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

On the second day of school, a first grader at Southland Elementary School was feeling emotionally overwhelmed. At her mother’s suggestion, she went to the Wellness Room.

“It only took about five minutes,” said Principal Lisa Jackson. “We just played hopscotch, and then she was ready to head back to class.”

The Wellness Room, new this year at Southland, provides a place where students who are feeling stress, frustration or other overwhelming feelings preventing them from learning can calm down and emotionally reset.

“With kids being out of school for almost six months, there's definitely a lot of anxiety on everybody's part, especially with all the new regulations; school looks very different than it did before,” Jackson said. “So, we've had quite a few visitors. I anticipate throughout the year it will be a pretty regular place to be visited.”

The Wellness Room is equipped with a variety of comfortable seating options, fidget toys, art supplies, even a weighted vest. Kids who need to burn off extra energy can play hopscotch, squeeze squishy balls or play with kinetic sand. Those who need to calm down can gaze at a lava lamp, read a book or sit alone on a soft beanbag chair or inside a small tent. Wall posters remind students of breathing exercises they can do.

“There are just things to make them feel safe and secure,” Jackson said. “We generally set a timer for about 10 minutes. For the most part, kids are usually ready to go back to class after that 10 minutes is up.”

Psychologist Rex Prescott, who has worked in Jordan District for 22 years, said the diagnosis of anxiety disorders and depression in children has increased dramatically in recent years. These mental health issues affect students’ ability to be successful in school.

“When kids are anxious, their brain works differently,” Prescott said. “And so, they're not focusing, they're not paying attention, they're not reading, they're not getting the instruction from the teacher; they're thinking about other things, about what's happening at home.” These students fall behind, which causes more anxiety.

The Wellness Room empowers students to regulate their emotions.

“The goal was to give them a place where they can come reset their emotional regulation, to teach them the skills that they need to regulate their own emotions and then to get them back in the classroom as quickly and efficiently as we can,” Prescott said.

When a teacher notices a child is struggling emotionally or behaviorally, they send them to the Wellness Room. The student misses 10 minutes of class, but teachers have found the student comes back to class ready to learn, and the overall time lost is much less.

Jackson said behavioral issues often stem from kids not being able to regulate their emotions. In the past, these students were sent to the principal’s office or asked to take a walk with an adult. Being sent to the Wellness Room feels less like a punishment.

Special education teacher Sarah Hidely said the Wellness Room has been a great resource for her students, those with ADHD can use up some extra energy, and overstimulated students can calm down.

“If they didn't have this room, then they would be in the back of another classroom trying to take a break,” Hidely said. “But then there's still so much stimulation or other students that they're distracted by in their classroom. To have the extra room that is usually one-on-one with the teacher, they can get some individualized attention. Then they go back to class and can be successful.”

Mental health is a priority in Jordan District, which has multiple resources and supports including social-emotional learning programs and full-time psychologists at all schools.

“We feel like that's a big part of our job here at elementary to teach kids how to be kind, how to deal with strong emotions like anger or sadness or frustration,” Jackson said. “The school psychologist works really closely with the teachers and those students and helps them with strategies they can use when they're feeling like that.”

Because of his experience of helping set up Southland’s Wellness Room, Prescott is setting up a Wellness Room at Foothills Elementary, where he was transferred this year.

Travis Hamblin, director of student services for Jordan District, said several schools have had success establishing Wellness Rooms or Calm Corners, which have benefits for both students and staff members

“Wellness centers enhance the culture of the school, increase mindfulness, increase and focus on self-regulation, validate individuals, increase on-task academic time and increase positive behaviors, to list a few,” Hamblin said.

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