Miller Middle School students are learning to let go of their anger, frustration, sadness and other emotions this year in a new reset room.
Students can ride a stationary bike, jump on a trampoline, play with Kinetic Sand and use an app to learn how to slow their heart rate in the space designed to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Students can also talk through their feelings with the counselors running the room.
The room is not a disciplinary tool, rather it is meant to help students learn the skills to handle their own emotions in class and at home, said Samantha Tower, coordinator of Exceptional Student Services.
“This is a prevention space because what we are focusing on is building the skills to cope with life’s challenges in healthy ways,” she said.
The space is also meant to help prevent behavioral problems in class because students sometimes act out in the classroom when they are struggling emotionally. The room offers an alternative for them to leave the classroom for five to 20 minutes and return calm and ready to learn, she said.
Similar rooms have been introduced in Escalante Middle School and all the Durango School District 9-R elementary schools, mostly in the last year, Tower said.
Schools have had rooms that provide sensory experiences in the past, but these spaces are meant to provide more opportunities to learn how to regulate emotions, she said.
The rooms are modeled, in part, on a successful regulation space introduced at Animas Valley Elementary last school year.
Data collected by Miller Middle School staff show the room is effective. About 83% of students entered the room upset and 76.2% left the room calm from October through April. Data were collected from about 100 students who used the room 368 times.
Students are asked to rate their level of emotional “dysregulation,” or distress, when they enter and leave the room on a scale of 0 to 3, with 0 indicating a state of calm. Those who didn’t leave completely calm left feeling far less upset, the data show.
In addition to ranking their level of distress, students are also asked to identify what emotion they were wrestling with, whether it be anger, impatience, resentment, anxiety or a host of other emotions. They were also asked about the reason for their emotional state.
“Negative emotions are needs that are not being met,” said JoAnne Hibbard, restorative practices facilitator at Miller Middle School.
As an educator with more than 30 years of experience, Hibbard has observed that students have more social and emotional needs than in the past, and she finds a distinct need for educators to play a more active role in helping students learn how to cope.
“The kids are supposed to come in, sit down and get busy, and that’s not where kids are at,” she said.
She set up the room during summer in a former conference room with help from other staff members and an $850 grant through La Plata Electric Association.
When the room opened in the fall, students were a bit slow to use it because they didn’t want to be judged by peers, she said. But the room has become more popular with time.
“More and more kids know what it’s like in here, and they know it’s going to help them. It’s just become way more accepted,” she said.
Teachers have discretion over when a student is allowed to leave the classroom, and they can say “no” if a student would miss a quiz or a test, said Jenny Lavelle, an academic adviser who staffs the room.
Students are also generally expected to listen to the initial instruction in a class before asking to come to the room, she said.
“It shouldn’t be looked at as an escape,” she said.
Paris Miller, a seventh grader, said she often comes to the room to play with sand that sticks to itself, in the same way that wet sand will, and the room helps her think about the happenings of the day in a more positive light.
“Instead of feeling bad all day, I can come here and reset,” Miller said.
She has noticed the room makes a difference among her peers because it offers an alternative to visiting a counselor.
Some kids last year just opted to “hold in” their feelings because they didn’t want to talk to a counselor, she said. But the reset room offers plenty of alternatives.
“You don’t really have to talk to anybody; you can sit in here and let out all your emotions instead of sitting in a chair talking to a counselor,” she said.