Teaching kids ways to deal with their emotions at a young age is showing results in a fairly young program in five schools in the area. Inside an igloo, Cameron Speed and Kyle Cronin catch up after the weekend.
"Whatever we talk about inside the igloo stays in there, because sometimes the conversation gets a little deeper," said Kyle Cronin, a behavior health therapist for the COOL Zone program at Penn Hills Elementary School. "So when we work in therapy sessions if kids want to talk about things that are difficult to talk about they can feel safe inside of there."
This igloo is the centerpiece of COOL Zone, which stands for Children Overcoming Obstacles and Limits. It’s a behavioral health program for kids in elementary school. UPMC heads up the Penguins Foundation-sponsored program at Penn Hills Elementary School.
Penn Hills Elementary School Principal Kristin Brown said the program is helpful, "To get to the root cause of why there are behavior issues trauma, perhaps. Those kinds of things that our school level team are not able to dive into or address adequately," she said.
Besides those who've suffered trauma, students having trouble focusing in the classroom, suffering from anxiety, depression or needing help with social skills are candidates for the COOL Zone.
Brown suggested Cameron’s family enroll in the program last year.
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"I didn’t notice something was wrong because he’s your son and you just think that’s normal kid, he’s a normal kid and then when the COOL Zone got involved, I actually did see the transformation," said Cameron's dad, Cameron Speed Sr.
Speed Sr. said his son struggled with anger outbursts. He works with his therapist, Kyle, daily, sometimes through games in the igloo, to set behavior goals.
"It’s really about finding where the strengths are for the child and really helping to emphasize that there are a lot of positive qualities and that there are skills we can help them to build," said Cronin.
Teachers have a hand in the program, and so do mom and dad. Cameron's therapist visits his house every two weeks.
"We all make time for it," said Cameron's mom, Chelsey Speed. "It gets everyone involved it just gives a better understanding of how we all communicate as a whole."
As for Cameron, he noticed the change too.
"It really helped me control my anger and not get so frustrated over things that I used to get frustrated about," he said.
The COOL Zone tells us after six months, parents and teachers noticed improvement when it came to aggression and conduct issues. They both also saw an increase in resiliency in the students in the program.
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