School news

Abilene attorney Hank Royer, left, Jeffcoat Foundation trustee, tells the Abilene Board of Education why he believes having a calming room at Abilene High School is a good idea. Royer donated $2,000 to AHS. Senior Beth Holmes, right, told the school board why the calming room is an important component to student mental health.

 

Abilene High School students who need a little break from the stress of grades, peers, jobs or whatever will have a room at school where they can decompress and calm down.

The Abilene Board of Education heard a presentation from AHS Senior Beth Holmes explaining why a calming or decompression room is a good idea.

Following Holmes’ presentation, the board accepted a $2,000 grant from Jeffcoat Foundation Trustee Hank Royer to furnish a calming/decompression room at the school.

“Last year I was a junior and a lot of people say it’s the toughest year for students regarding curriculum, peer pressure and everything,” Holmes told board members.

“I noticed an increase in my friends’ and peers’ anxiety — including mine.”

Common problem

Holmes decided to research “anxiety in schools” this past summer and discovered it’s a common problem everywhere. She noted:

• Over the last seven years on a national level, anxiety is the most prevalent mental disorder in all students at 25 percent.

• A variety of factors add to students’ anxiety, including homework load, peer pressure and home life.

“I found many coping mechanisms and techniques students can do, but one of the biggest things I saw in school specifically was a calming or decompression room,” Holmes said.

Research has found school calming rooms provide a place where students can obtain a sense of well-being through a variety of therapeutic interventions that can “benefit the entire school community, including parents,” Holmes said.

“Parents reported students came home in a calmer state of mind than before,” she added.

The goal for the AHS calming room is to provide a safe space and environment for students to decompress when overwhelmed.

“Of course, we want to promote coping mechanisms and techniques for students to use in class so they don’t have to leave, but if they do have to leave to catch a few minutes for a break, we will be providing that safe space for them,” Holmes said.

Maize South

Maize South High School is a Kansas school with a calming room. Holmes said she visited with Lyndsey Brown, Maize’s school counselor, about the different rules and regulations.

Since Maize is a much bigger school, their room is located in the counselor wing so a counselor is always available to provide constant supervision.

At Abilene High School, the calming room will be located in the media center, behind Media Specialist Kim Townsend’s desk. Currently, the 10x12-foot room is being used for storage, but is also used for small meetings or if a teacher needs to talk to a student.

“But there are other areas for that too,” Holmes said, speaking of a meeting space.

Board Member Jeff Bathurst asked who would supervise students in the calming room. Holmes said Townsend had agreed to do that.

“We’ll ask students to leave their book bag and all electronics outside the room and she will monitor that. The only electronics in the room will be an iPad that will have access to the calming app,” Holmes said.

Some teachers use the calming app to help students relax, she explained. It plays different meditations or white noise.

Furnishings

The room will be furnished with a rug to cover the carpet, a beanbag made of memory foam, a rocking chair, a white noise machine, ambient lighting and various sensory objects.

The estimated cost for furnishings is around $1,700, which was rounded up to $2,000 “in hopes of furthering the talk of mental illness with an experiment,” according to information provided by Holmes.

Royer told the board the foundation is donating $2,000 to cover expenses.

“We think it’s a great idea to give a child a chance to get away from the peers that are causing the tension for a little bit,” Royer said.

He also donated a Himalayan salt lamp to be used in the room.

“I’m a believer in that. I have two in my house, one in my office,” Royer said. “I had an extra one and gave her (Holmes) one of my own.”

Board questions

Board Member Gregg Noel asked what effect social media has on students’ stress.

Holmes said there’s a lot of research about social media on that topic.

Board President Kyle Becker asked how long a student could spend in the room.

Holmes said at Maize South they recommend a 15-minute limit per student, but the student does not have to stay that long.

Bathurst wondered what happens when more than one student wants to use the room at the same time. Holmes said the school already has a pass system so perhaps something could be established where Townsend could notify the student when the room is empty.

Other donations

The school board also approved two donations for other district programs including:

• A $1,200 donation from the Don and Pat Berkley Family Fund through the Community Foundation of Dickinson County. The funds will be used for the After School Program.

• A $500 donation from Black & Co. Realtors to purchase items for the behavior store at Kennedy Primary School.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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