Freeport Public Schools took a step toward a more comprehensive approach to education with the introduction of calming rooms in each of its eight buildings.
The calming rooms are designed to provide a safe, supportive environment for students in the Freeport school district.
School district officials recognized the need after the stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. To address this, the district decided to introduce calming rooms in each school serving as a safe space for students to manage their emotions, de-escalate, and self-regulate in stressful situations.
“We believe in educating the whole child, including their mental health,” Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said. “The calming spaces initiative is one of many that aim to bring services and support to students, including social and emotional learning. The space is designed to be a calming and peaceful place for students to go and de-stress, regain control of their emotions, and find their center or Zen.”
Archer Street School, Bayview Avenue School, Caroline G. Atkinson Intermediate School, Columbus Avenue, Freeport High School, J. W. Dodd Middle School, Leo F. Giblyn School, and New Visions School, have had a designated calming room since last spring.
The school’s calming rooms provide sensory stimulation and calming visual focal points, including bubble tubes, textured walls and carpets with lights. Some rooms feature a microphone that changes colors when students speak into it, bean bag chairs and relaxing chairs that connect to Bluetooth speakers.
“We went and worked with a vendor to design age-appropriate spaces for our students,” Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Personnel Services and Special Education, Helen Kanellopoulos said. “We have one of these spaces in each and every one of our buildings and everything in there is sensory friendly.”
The calming rooms, open to every student, can be used as part of a student’s behavior plan, as a reward system, or simply as a place for students to go when they are having a difficult moment.
“We want to provide them with the resources and strategies that they have access to, so that they know that they can be using this as a tool to help reduce stress for themselves,” Kanellopoulos said.
The rooms are meant to provide a low-stress and fun environment to help students work through their emotions and reactions to various situations.
The goal is to reduce stress and anxiety, increase creativity, and refocus students so they can attend to their academics. The rooms will also help students understand the importance of their mental health, provide them with resources and strategies to manage it.
District staff members were trained to competently utilize the calming rooms with students. The training was led by building administrators, pupil personnel services staff and behaviorists. The training included specific strategies for calming rooms, especially for students with behavior plans. The training equips staff with necessary skills and tools to assist students in reducing their stress and managing emotions.
According to Kanellopoulos, the calming spaces have been well-received by students and staff with many families reporting that they have helped students manage their emotions and return to their academics with a clearer mind.
The administration has taken steps to ensure families and caregivers are involved in the students utilization of the calming room. With the aim of making the calming room a seamless and accessible resource for students, the district worked to incorporate it into its offerings. If a student decides to use the calming room, the pupil personnel services staff or administrators will keep families informed.
Many families are already aware of the calming room’s inclusion in their child’s behavior plan. Additionally, teachers communicate with families about the possibility of using the room as a reward for their students.
The district’s vision for the future of their calming room experience is to have it evolve and update the room to meet the changing needs of students. One of the goals is to create sensory spaces in the classrooms, so students can take a break without having to leave the room, providing a more natural experience. The district also plans to incorporate more flexible seating and furniture options in classrooms to allow for movement and choice.
The Freeport School District also prioritizes the professional development of its staff with training and workshops.
The Freeport School District also partners with SKY Schools, which provide stress management and emotional well-being training to students, teachers, and other education professionals. The aim is to reduce stress and increase resilience through techniques such as breathing exercises, emotional regulation, and mindfulness. The techniques are incorporated into students’ daily routine to support their mental health.
“The main reason for all of this is that we want our students to learn that their mental health is just as important as their physical health,” Kanellopoulos said.