Wellness Center provides emotional oasis within Oquirrh Elementary
Mar 09, 2020 02:38PM
By Jet Burnham
The calming atmosphere of the Wellness Center provides an oasis from stressors. (Photo courtesy Jordan School District)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Principal Shauna Worthington was inspired to improve the mental health of her students at Oquirrh Elementary while hiking Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.
Last spring, Worthington had been touring social-emotional education programs in St. George schools and was impressed with their use of wellness centers, which provide students a place to calm their emotions and prepare to learn.
“I knew that was something that we could really benefit from because I was spending a lot of time last year helping kids process their emotions and manage their stress,” Worthington said.
She was thinking about the logistics of creating a wellness center at Oquirrh Elementary when she stopped at the national park on the way home from her trip.
“I was actually sitting on top of Angel’s Landing for a long time just thinking about it,” Worthington said. “That's when I decided that we're going to make this happen.”
By the time school began in the fall, she had created an oasis in the middle of the school with dimmed lights and cozy seating stocked with tools for self-calming puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, books, Legos, Play-Doh and art supplies.
Students ask to go to the Wellness Center when their stress or emotions are getting in the way of learning.
“The goal is to get them so that they can self-regulate their emotion before it gets too big,” she said. “Instead of having a kid escalate to the point where they're so frustrated that they're missing lots of class, we're catching it early and letting them self regulate, and then getting them back to class.”
Megan Daly, the social emotional learning coach who runs the center, is also available to help students process their feelings. Data is kept on use of the center. Daly looks for patterns in students using the center and works with teachers and parents to help identify stressors and anxieties that may be affecting their emotional well-being.
While many students with anxiety use the center regularly, it is not solely for students with behavioral plans.
“Every kid has the same access no matter what their needs are,” Daly said.
Data shows the Wellness Center has been successful.
- In the first 90 days of school, the center had 2,624 visits from 308 students (46% of the student body.)
- 76% of those students have visited fewer than 10 times.
- 25 students have visited 30 or more times.
- There have been 40% fewer office referrals for significant behavioral concerns this year compared to last year.
“As a teacher, I wish this could have been something that my students had access to,” said Daly, who previously taught fourth grade. Worthington said teachers understand that while students are missing 10 minutes of class to go to the Wellness Center, if they stayed in class in their condition, they wouldn’t be learning anyway.
“It's really helping kids stay engaged in instructional time because they know that they have a place to go if they're worried about something,” Worthingon said. “They're able to focus better; they're able to learn better because they're not as worried and stressed.”
Skills taught in the Wellness Center are also reinforced in classrooms through a video series. The focus on social-emotional education has affected school culture.
“Even just the general sense of calm in our building has been amazing,” Worthington said. “It's been a great change for all of us.”
Many administrators have toured the Wellness Center at Oquirrh Elementary. Many schools don’t have a room to dedicate for a Wellness Center, but administrators there are looking for ways to adapt some of the concepts. McKinley Withers, head of Jordan District’s Department of Health and Wellness, encourages all school administrators to implement social emotional learning curriculums and supports for their students.
“We want all of our schools, over time, to be thinking of ways that they can meet students’ needs—their social and emotional needs just as much as they're meeting their academic needs,” Withers said.
He said the department will not prescribe any districtwide programs but rather allow schools to find what works best for their students and circumstances.
Parents are also invited to use the wellness tips, tools and resources found at wellness.jordandistrict.org.