Pine View Middle promotes mental wellness with designated room for distressed students

ST. GEORGE — Pine View Middle School is teaching its students more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

The school has implemented a “wellness room” meant to teach students how to self-regulate and promote the use of coping skills. The room is the second of its kind in the school district, joining Desert Hills High School in implementing the initiative.

Manned by a trained paraprofessional, the wellness room is specially designed to make students feel at home, with rocking chairs, pillows, blankets, zen gardens, Buddha Boards and other items to help students de-escalate.

“A big part of that is getting away from whatever is bugging you right now,” Pine View Middle Assistant Principal Brooks Bergeson said. “Getting to a place where you can have time and a quiet place to just think.”

Students created their own “how-to” video for their peers, showing them how to properly use the room and the procedures they are expected to follow.

The Wellness Room at Pine View Middle School, St. George, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Those procedures start from the moment a student asks to use the wellness room — teachers ask for the students’ phones and put them in a zipper-closed bag. The student picks up a hall pass and makes their way to the wellness room, which is monitored by the paraprofessional.

Students check in with the staff member and take an hourglasses to keep track of time. After that, it’s up to the student. Bergeson said whether students just need a moment to thoughtlessly doodle with pen and paper or curl up in a blanket while they enjoy the quiet of the environment, they are allowed to identify what they need to center themselves before returning to class.

When the hourglass runs out, students put the object they chose back, check out and head back to class.

According to Bergeson, the wellness room accommodates an average of 10 kids each day, and if the monitor notices a student coming in multiple times a day or week, they are referred to the school’s counselors. On average, the monitor refers an average of two to three students to the counselors each week.

The Wellness Room at Pine View Middle School, St. George, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Bergeson said it’s middle school students who need resources like these most.

“It’s a hard time for kids these ages. There’s a lot of change going on in their lives. They’re trying to figure out how to be cool and not stick out and try to fit in. They’re trying to figure it all out.”

Pine View outlined three tiers of wellness when creating a system to identify students most in need. The first tier is for students who need a moment away to regroup.

After students start using the room more than once a week, they are moved to Tier II where they meet with a school counselor. Bergeson said the school’s counselors received training from the district’s social-emotional learning director on how to successfully structure how students ask for and use the room.

If the counselor has met with the student and believes they need more help, they are assigned to Tier III, where they are put in touch with a licensed clinical social worker. Pine View received funds through the Teacher and Student Success Act to hire an LCSW who is on campus once a week. The program started Monday, and this is the first year the school has had its own social worker on campus.

The Wellness Room at Pine View Middle School, St. George, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

The Success Act funds also paid for the redesign of the room, the tools students can use while de-escalating and the paraprofessional who monitors the students.

“Without that, we just wouldn’t have been able to do this because we wouldn’t have had the funding for it,” Bergeson said.

For schools that don’t necessarily have the funding to create a wellness room, he said teachers could invite counselors to homeroom classes to teach different exercises, give students ideas of coping skills and educate them on how to self-regulate.

The room’s impact has been noticed outside of the data sets by faculty and staff, according to Bergeson. Often, students would go to the main office asking to go home, saying they were sick, or trying to calm down from being upset. Now, Bergeson said hardly any students are reporting to the office and are instead using the wellness room.

The Wellness Room at Pine View Middle School, St. George, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

To quantify the impact the room has on students, the administration added a survey to the check-in and check-out process. The survey asked students to rate their stress on a scale of 1 to 10.

“They’re totally different when they come in the room as to when they leave, and the data shows that,” Bergeson said.

Pine View reported the survey findings to the Washington County School Board during its meeting in early September. Upon entering the room, students marked themselves at an average of 7-9 on the stress scale, but those same students rated themselves at 3-4 before leaving.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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