16:35 PM

Room to be Real

Well Connected - Fall | Winter 2019

In one year alone, 33 percent of students at the Freshwater Education District's Area Learning Center identified themselves as wrestling with mental health issues. That year, Freshwater staff made the decision to prioritize supporting students with mental health needs.

“It was a decision not only to increase attendance and improve academic success, but to improve the quality of students' lives,” explained ALC Specialist Jana Timm. “We are aware that mental health concerns do not end with a high school diploma. It was important to all of us - staff and students - that the stigma associated with mental health did not prevent our students from seeking support as young adults.”

Freshwater began by collaborating with a local mental health provider. The provider meets daily with groups of students, facilitating discussion about current and relevant health topics. Students are provided the opportunity for group and individual therapy, along with behavioral skills.

Initially, intervention took place in a classroom also used for an academic class the next hour. Timm and staff felt that the physical meeting environment influenced emotions and wanted a room that would positively affect the therapeutic experience for all students.

“Our school happened to be moving locations at that time,” Timm said. “Though we still had the constraints of an educational setting, we were seeking ways to make one of the new rooms in the building a space to provide a perception of psychological safety so that students would have a willingness to disclose and build rapport with a support person.”

Timm turned to Sourcewell's Small Project Partnership funding to help provide the means to create a safe and sacred space for students. The Freshwater Area Learning Center requested and was awarded $1,500 to match funds provided by the district.

Students selected the type of seating. At one site, they chose antigravity chairs and ottomans. At another site, they selected bean bag chairs and stools. Timm said the chairs are typically set up in a semi-circle to promote discussion. Carpet provides a warmer feeling, and walls are painted beige and a soft blue tone to enhance a soothing environment.

Timm said the room is used daily for group sessions. When having a difficult time at school, students also use it as a place to escape, or to sit or meet with staff, peers, and social workers.

“This area would have been difficult to provide without the financial support from Sourcewell,” Timm said. “With academics as a focus, it's difficult to make the decision to create this kind of space over curriculum - although we all understand the benefit of it. When students start their school day with time in a calming environment, it tends to set the tone for the rest of the day. No matter the circumstance, our students always know they have a safe place to go at school.”