Gateway: Living

Middle school unveils chill-spa to help students relax, focus

KPMS sixth-grader Brianna Buzzard displays the KPMS “chill-spa” sensory fidget board before the facility’s welcome sign.
KPMS sixth-grader Brianna Buzzard displays the KPMS “chill-spa” sensory fidget board before the facility’s welcome sign. Courtesy

Communities In Schools board members, along with representatives form the Peninsula Schools Education Foundation, turned out May 3 for grand opening of the newly created ‘chill-spa' at Key Peninsula Middle School.

The chill-spa is a sensory classroom, a dedicated space designed with sensory and activity equipment to support self-regulation of students who are in elevated and/or depressed emotional states of arousal. The main purpose of the room is to support the student in the implementation of self-regulation strategies, resulting in the reduction of challenging behaviors, said Communities In Schools of Peninsula's Key Peninsula Middle School site coordinator Rachel Gilchrist. Communities in Schools and Peninsula Schools Education Foundation contributed resources to establish the room.

We had nothing like this when I was a kid. But, then, we also didn’t have TV, computers, smart phones, GPS, etc. to assail our young minds.

Communities In Schools Board Member Jeremy Mort who contributed a large amount to purchase the furniture and many sensory items in the room said he and his wife were approached by a dear friend who is a site coordinator for CISP about sponsoring families in need over the holidays.

"That was very eye-opening for us. We wanted to do more for these kids and their families," Mort said.

"The more we learned about what CISP does for students and the support it provides for the schools, the more we decided that CISP would be a great organization for our firm, Surface Renew, to support. We were approached by CISP executives about a pilot program they wanted to launch at KPMS that had great success in other parts of the country. Surface Renew has always prided itself on being problem solvers – and to be problem solvers you have to try new methods and products all the time. So this program aligned with what we believe and we are excited to see it grow.”

And shortly thereafter, Mort became one of the newest CISP board members.

In recent generations, students unwind electronically with gaming or videos and, as a result, some children have difficulty regulating themselves for high-stamina tasks, Gilchrist said. This underserved need can manifest in forms of hyperactivity, lethargy or impulsivity.

"Our KPMS Chill-Spa has a variety of sensory resources designed for students to recalibrate attention and re-prime them for learning,” said Gilchrist. "Research shows students only need about a seven-minute sensory break to recalibrate learning, and return to their regular classroom setting.”

Eighth-grader Leila Hermsen loves the yoga exercise equipment. "It really helps get some energy out!”

Classmate Shawn Campbell said the room has so many cool options to choose from, depending on someone is feeling that day. "My favorite so far is definitely the bean bag chair!”

Sixth-grader Ivy Stevens agreed about the bean bag chairs. "They are super comfortable and relaxing when my morning or afternoon is stressful, or when I’m just having a bad day.”

Sixth-grader Brianna Buzzard’s favorite part is the chair massager. "It helps my body calm down and relax, which then helps me focus.”

Andrea Bowman, KPMS assistant principal, is extremely grateful for the donors who made this space come true.

"We live in a very frenetic world and some of our students come to us with a limited capacity to adjust to it. The chill-spa will now give us another proactive strategy to teach students self-regulation and we hope the skills they learn when accessing this space will not only support them in their ability to focus and learn in school but will also support them into their adult lives,” Bowman said.

Middle school occupational therapist Barb Morton said sensory rooms are one of the things used often in his profession.

"I saw the chill-spa today for the first time and want to say Andrea and Rachel did a beautiful job! They hit every area and I know the kids needing it will benefit from all their hard work! All schools should have one!” Morton said.

Mort feels the impact will not be felt by the students alone.

"This program will benefit teachers as well. The goal is to keep students engaged in education. This program helps that mission. Students will have a place to go to unwind when things get a bit overwhelming during class; a place to push the reset button and get back to class, back to learning," she said.

"We should all be so lucky to have a place like this to go during our work day,” Mort added.

To learn more, call Communities In Schools at 253-884-5733.

Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at hughmcm26@gmail.com.
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