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Learn about the unique 'Wellness Center' for kids at Woodstock Elementary, and how it works

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Woodstock Elementary School counselor Ponny Kosmas stands in front of a comfort chair for students, in the schools new Wellness Center, where they solve problems they are faced with.   Ponny Kosmas – or Mr. Ponny, as students call him – is a Woodstock resident, with a two-year old son, who had been a counselor at Woodstock Elementary School for three years…when one day he had a "shower thought", as he describes it. Two years ago he followed that thought and created a unique "Wellness Center" at the school.

This Wellness Center is the only such in the PPS District. Through lessons that he presents to classes, or by working with small groups or counseling individual students, Kosmas handles students' behavioral and personal problems by teaching life skills that he says have made a positive difference for students, teachers, and families.

The Wellness Center was created in a second faculty lounge adjacent to the nurse's office, fifteen feet from the main office, and ten feet from the Principal's office. That was another "shower thought."

"I felt it was [a] more friendly [place] – close to the front offices. And [it was] important to have it be central to the kids." Kosmas says it also helps to make that whole area a comfortable safe space, unlike the old stereotype of "going to the Principal's office" for bad behavior. Plus, the proximity allows counselors to make connections without having to walk down long hallways.

Their Wellness Center is a place where a child or small group of children can go sign in, and set a timer for a ten-minute session. There are noise-cancelling headphones and ear buds to help students, if needed.

If a student is referred by a teacher, counselor, or family, he or she will have five sessions over a period of time, and then review growth toward a stated goal. Five more sessions can be scheduled if necessary. Sessions include a constructive conversation with "Mr. Ponny" or half-time counselor Shannon Nicolas. Health Assistant Sarah Richman is also available to children.

When Woodstock Elementary students request to go to the Wellness Center, they learn a "common sense rule": It is best to ask for a green "Wellness Center Pass" when they have a break, or have finished their class work.

The center provides donated juice and snack if needed (a lack of food and drink can sometimes create behavior problems), as well as a comfortable chair to sit in, a low table for drawing and coloring, and a welcoming environment. Students must follow the "Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible" Wellness Center expectations – and, Kosmas emphasizes, "it is not a punitive place, or a time-out zone."

Kosmas wants children to know that learning mental health skills is a normal thing. For example, he says, "Friendship and relationship skills are ones that can help all through life, so learning them and understanding that mental health tools are okay is important."

On the day of his interview with THE BEE, Kosmas had taught a third grade class that there are five types of "social cruelty": Bullying, teasing, exclusion, rumoring, and ganging up. Students learn the characteristics of each, and what to do constructively about them.

He says students often come to the Wellness Center saying they want to be less angry, learn how to control their anger, or solve a loneliness, friendship, or "social cruelty" problem. For solutions, SMART goals (widely used throughout the country) help students and counselors to develop clear plans. SMART goals follow the acronym: Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Before being a counselor at Woodstock Elementary, Kosmas was a PPS para-educator for two years, and then attended graduate school at Lewis and Clark College, where he earned a counseling degree. That training, and an artistic bent, have enabled him to create stick figures and computer graphics to illustrate positive and negative behaviors, as well as examples of how to solve problems. These drawings are hung in the Wellness Center and hallway, are given to parents to take home, and are used in class presentations.

Learn more online –

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