BALDWIN, Pa. — As students and teachers navigate through this school year, some students are more anxious and stressed. So two South Hills school districts implemented a new type of classroom and program to teach students and even staff members to deal with those overwhelming emotions many of us are feeling.
“I can say that I’ve feel disappointed, upset and just kind of angry,” Baldwin High School senior Megan Puzak said.
Puzak says hybrid learning isn’t what she imagined for her senior year.
“High school is stressful as it is already, and then with all this corona stuff on top of it, it just adds on way more stress,” Puzak said. “All these kids have their social lives, jobs, families responsibilities, stuff to take care of, and they spend a lot of time on social media as well.”
Stress and anxiety can lead to physical and mental health problems. Baldwin High School teamed up with Allegheny Health Network last school year to launch its chill room.
“I would say feels like kind of like a lobby in a hotel or something,” Puzak said.
The room is on the third floor and looks nothing like a classroom. It’s decorated with couches and a fire place and is painted in calming colors.
School-based therapist Alicia Anderson says once students are aware of the room, it’s a popular spot.
“They really enjoy that it’s a way to step out and forget that you might be in the school,” Anderson said.
The grant-funded project is designed to teach both students and staff members strategies to deal with stress and stay mindful — something many students don’t really know how to do.
“One of the things I found is kids don’t know how to take care of themselves in terms of self-care,” Anderson said.
Just like teaching students math and English, children need to be taught how to deal with stress. Anderson and other staff members work to teach deep breathing and other techniques.
The program creator, Dr. William Davies, said he heard from many different school counselors saying they can’t keep up with the demand of students needing services.
“Many students going to school were falling through the cracks,” Davies said. “What we’re doing is we’re bringing in preventative skill-based services that allow students to learn (and) practice evidence-based skills that allow them to make better decisions, to decrease stress, to decrease anxiety, to decrease depression, with the hope of keeping them out of higher levels of care.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and closed schools, the Chill Program went virtual. Now more than ever is when people need to make time for self-care. The staff offered services through Zoom, and school officials say it seems to be working.
Baldwin Assistant Principal Alicia Johnson said: “There’s a ton of loss, death associated to COVID, financial loss. I mean, just loss of your normal day-to-day routines. Just loss of things that brought us joy. So we are really trying to take that approach, you know, as we come back to school, a holistic approach to make sure that you know our kids aren’t only focused on the academics.”
For Puzak, the mindfulness techniques she’s added to her routine are helping her navigate through this school year.
“It’s important to just have a few seconds of the day just to unplug and relax,” Puzak said.
The pilot program is also being tested in a Pleasant Hills middle school.
To learn more about the Chill Project and mindfulness techniques you can incorporate into your day, click HERE.
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