Teaching kids how to cope
When elementary school students in Prineville begin to feel angry or frustrated, they now have a safe place to go to calm down.
Calm corners and wellness rooms have been created at Barnes Butte Elementary and Crooked River Elementary.
"We're trying to teach kids how to cope," explained CRE Principal Kimberly Bonner. "So rather than have the meltdown, we want to teach them. 'I feel it coming. I'm going to go use the calm corner. I'm going to use the strategies that I've learned.'"
These new tools are part of the Crook County School District's Secure and Healthy Learners priority, which encompasses wellness and strength-centered services to students as well as mental health and behavior support systems.
These calm corners and wellness rooms were launched at the beginning of this school year.
Each elementary school classroom has a calm corner, which is a small, designated space that all students can easily access. It features a welcoming beanbag chair and is decorated with posters that show moods, feelings and emotions. The calm corner also has stuffed animals, crayons and coloring books, stress balls, books, sensory objects and directions for calming breathing exercises.
"It's a self-regulation spot where they can go for help to be able to engage back in the classroom," explained CRE Assistant Principal Adam Stefanek.
Calm corners are a way to help students self-manage their behavior, teaching them skills to improve wellness. They are also a discrete means of addressing undesired behavior, resulting in less time outside the class. Calm corners help minimize class disruptions and are a tool to help manage student behavior.
"This is not intended for the tip-of-your-triangle, red-zone students," Bonner explained. "This is intended for every single student to use as they see the need."
Bonner said her teachers love having the new tool in their classrooms.
"These amazing kids are struggling inside their brains, and to be able to take a break in a safe space is needed and appreciated. It helps them rebalance, slow down and rejoin the class in a positive manner," one teacher reported.
"Calm corners are the first line of defense," Stefanek said. "Students have that opportunity in the classroom to go to the calm corner. If that is a tool that is not successful and being utilized like it should for that particular student, we have the wellness room, which ramps it up. They receive more services in there."
Each school has one wellness room, which is a therapeutic learning environment outside of the classroom that is manned by a trained wellness coordinator.
Wellness rooms offer a variety of sensory and social emotional tools and activities that help students manage stress and self-regulate. Wellness coordinators teach students self-regulation skills so they can better focus in the classroom and positively interact with peers and staff.
There is a referral/screening process before students are qualified to use the wellness room. Students are scheduled for 10- to 15-minute time slots. The student's teacher and the wellness coordinator communicate on the student's progress of learned strategies.
"It's meant to be a proactive space, not a reactive space," Bonner said, noting that it's not typically used for a student who's in the midst of a meltdown, but rather it's used for scheduled meetings. "Students can go learn these tools so when they are having this hard time, they have some skills to fall back on. Every now and again, it is used when a student is having a hard time, but that's not the ultimate intent of it."
During students' meeting with the wellness coordinator, they check in, assess their feelings and behavior and then do a minute of calming breathing exercises. They then choose or get assigned to a station, such as yoga, reading, sensory or art. Next, they identify and practice self-regulation strategies. They then check out and go back to class.
BBE Principal Jim Bates said teachers are reporting success with the wellness room.
"He is able to get some of his anger out and use some of his words," one of his teachers reported.
Another teacher said the student was keeping his hands to himself.
Bonner said one teacher told her the student can take behavior correction better without getting angry every time and another student has fewer verbal outbursts.
Between 10 and 15 students use the wellness rooms daily at both schools, and around 10 students per week per classroom use the calm corners at each school.
Bonner said some students are scheduled to meet with the wellness room coordinator once a week while others meet daily, all the while building another relationship with a caring adult.
At CRE, there were no additional costs for the wellness room coordinator because the job duties for an existing staff member were reconfigured. At BBE, an instructional assistant position was added to support not only the wellness room but also several other areas in the school.
The $3,000 worth of supplies for the CRE wellness rooms and calm corners came from the general fund.
BBE was awarded a $3,000 grant from Crook County Health Department last year to develop their social/emotional support and Positive Behavior Intervention Support systems further.
"The funds were sufficient to purchase all our bean bags, emotional regulation posters, and some hands-on tools for our wellness rooms," Bates said.
Administrators are still gathering data, but they believe the number of referrals has decreased as well as class disruptions. They feel students now have more skills and tools to use when they get frustrated.
"We're grateful to have this resource available this year," Bates said. "It's made a tremendous difference, and we're grateful for it."