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Jordan students create 'chill rooms' to help fellow students calm anxiety

After watching friends and classmates struggle with stress and anxiety over the past four years, two Jordan High School students jumped at the opportunity to make their school a less stressful place than when they first enrolled.

Last summer, in between their junior and senior years, Harley Laughridge and Taya Hauer designed the high school’s “chill room” — a place where students can go to spend a few moments away from class to help manage stress and anxiety.

It’s easy to forget how stressful high school can be for some students. After eight hours of class, followed by sports or activities and up to a couple of hours dedicated to reading and homework at night, stress can quickly build for high school students.

“Teenagers don’t get to pick when they’re feeling anxious. They can’t just pick it at a convenient time and go ‘Oh, I’ll just be stressed in study hall instead of right now,” Laughridge said.

The chill room, equipped with comfortable furniture, coloring books, an essential oil diffuser, aromatherapy lotion and other de-stressing items, is a place for students to re-center themselves when anxiety becomes overbearing in the middle of a school day.

“I think this room is helping staff members and students know that we have our boundaries and there are times you need to take a break and that’s OK,” Hauer said.

Establishing a chill zone

The chill room is the product of Allina Health’s Change to Chill school partnership program, which expanded to include 16 additional high schools for the 2019-20 school year, including Jordan. The program allocated $1,000 to JHS for the establishment of a “chill zone” and funded two summer internships for Laughridge and Hauer to design the room.

Jordan High School counselor Jenny Kusske said the opportunity came at just the right time, as staff was beginning to incorporate stress reduction and emotional regulation into the classroom.

“We’re seeing more stress and anxiety with kids, so we started last year going into the classroom and doing some calming things and when the grant came up it was like our students were asking for things like this so if felt like perfect timing,” Kusske said.

After the program was expanded to Jordan this spring, Laughridge and Hauer submitted applications for the summer internship.

“I see a lot of my friends deal with stress and I want to provide that area for someone to go to,” Hauer said.

The pair attended three meetings over the summer with Allina coordinators and other students who were implementing programs their schools. Allina only provided a basic guideline, Hauer said, giving students the freedom to design the right room for their schools.

“What was really beneficial was meeting with other students who were doing the same things and stealing ideas from them and seeing what they were doing. That’s where we found a lot of their inspiration,” Laughridge said.

The first step, Laughridge said, was researching their school’s needs in order to make sure the chill room would be appropriately used. The students said their research found JHS staff members are “spectacular” but their student-to-student support could be improved.

“Student-to-student support is about being aware of others who aren’t your friends and how would you support a fellow student,” Laughridge said.

After presenting their proposal to Allina coordinators and their fellow interns, Laughridge and Hauer returned to JHS with $1,000 to carry out their vision.

Early impact

The room was opened to students a few weeks into the school year and has already made an impact.

“I feel like there are more students that come down here for a break than we’ve seen in the past come to the office for a break,” Kusske said. “That helps us check in and see if they just need a minute or if they need to talk to one of use.”

But the chill room isn’t a luxury for students to abuse. Homework and independent study are forbidden. Students sign in, documenting why they visited, and are limited to 15-minute sessions. The room adjoins Whiteside’s office, so she often checks in to see how kids are doing and sometimes asks if they need to talk to a counselor.

Prior to implementing the room, Laughridge and Hauer gave a presentation to the high school staff detailing the purpose and value of the room.

“I can see teachers trying, which I’m very happy about because I feel like it helps kids be open with staff members and go to them and say they’re feeling very stressed and not hide from them,” Hauer said

Working together through a unique and valuable “dual perspective,” Laughridge, Hauer and the school staff believe they’ve developed a responsible and effective program that speaks to students.

But it won’t stop there. Important additions, like a “resource shelf” where kids can find anything from chapstick to information about mental health organizations, are in the works.

Laughridge and Hauer already have a list of student requests they’d like to add to the chill zone, including furniture, puzzles, an Alexa device and possibly a Nintendo Switch. The pair budgeted responsibly and still have about half their budget left to afford these items.

Even more important than putting the remaining funds to good use, though, is building a student-led initiative that will continue to improve the room. Laughrridge and Hauer said that one of their top priorities in the coming months is establishing a student group that will focus on maintaining the chill room and bolstering student-to-student support. In the coming months, they plan to create a student group that focuses on bolstering student-to-student support

“We want to make sure it’s something that stays around and keeps getting used, Hauer said. “It just makes me happy to see people are using the room.”


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Jordan Planning Commission OKs 'green cremation'

The Jordan City Council will decide whether or not to allow Ballard Sunder Funeral & Cremation to add alkaline hydrolysis services to their downtown funeral home after the proposal cleared a planning commission last week.

The Oct. 8 public hearing drew a group of about 12 residents, in addition to funeral home owner Mark Ballard, funeral director Lindsey Ballard and Dean Fisher, director of the UCLA Donate Body Program, who worked at Mayo Clinic for 20 years developing the process.

Green alternative

Alkaline hydrolysis is a chemical process that reduces a body to micro-molecules using water, alkaline chemicals, heat and sometimes pressure. The intended result is an accelerated natural decomposition by using environmentally friendly chemicals that don’t produce toxic gas or air pollutants.

The process takes two to three hours and reduces the body to bone fragment and a fluid called effluent remains, which is made of salts, sugars, amino acids and peptides. Effluent remains can be discharged into waste water. Mercury from dental fillings is contained and recycled instead of vaporized.

At the hearing, Ballard-Sunder neighbor Maureen Carlson asked what kind of noise the machinery would produce, noting that she can hear the exhaust system when the crematory is in operation.

“It’s a 5-horsepower motor, so it’s like a whirlpool pump running,” Fisher said. “All it’s doing is it keeps the fluid moving during the process.”

Carlson also asked if the process produces a “sludge” that would be hard on the sewer system. Fisher said that wouldn’t be the case since the process uses liquid potassium hydroxide, which helps break down remains into a discolored liquid.

Another resident, noting that the chamber is heated to 302 degrees, asked about emissions. Fisher said steam and vapor are stored inside as the chamber is cooled to 212 degrees before the liquid is released. Approximately 270 gallons of water are used per cycle, he added.

Lindsey Ballard said of the 175-200 families served at the funeral home’s three Scott County locations, about 63% utilize cremations services, which are conducted in Jordan.

Adding alkaline hydrolysis will not replace flame cremation, Ballard said, but they hope to see the process overtake 25% of flame creations in the first year of operation.

“We think that would be a fairly easy goal to get to,” she said.

The process would come at a premium though, costing about $500 more than flame creation. Fisher said the machinery costs about twice as much as a crematory.

“This will be a premium offering just like hybrid cars are,” Ballard said. “You buy organic food at the grocery, things that are green are considered a premium offering and that’s how we plan on using it.”

Re-litigating the past

In addition to asking questions, a majority of speakers expressed criticism — most of which, however, was directed at ongoing flame cremation services rather than the proposed alkaline hydrolysis service.

Nearby resident Jim Fink told the planning commission that materials in the public meeting notice counteract claims made 9 years ago.

“This notice confirms from the city, that with the flame-based crematory we got, we have a polluting process including mercury vapors,” Fink said.

Margaret Fink expressed disappointment with the number of cremations that occur in Jordan.

“Body disposal is big business and big money — period,” she said. “It’s also big pollution they don’t want to talk about ... No matter how you glorify it, there is nothing pleasant about body disposal. You are either burying, burning or now ‘pressure-cooking’ corpses.”

Ballard pushed back on Fink’s choice of words.

“That’s not the business that we’re in, that’s not how our profession is defined — I find that offensive,” Ballard said. “I’ve cared for family members of the people in this room and that’s not what we’re doing. We’re providing a meaningful service and I just want to say that because we work really hard to do that.”

Michelle Bisek, who lives and operates a daycare across the street from the funeral home, asked how much safer alkaline hydrolysis is than flame cremation. Fisher said carbon emissions are 75% less than flame cremation.

Bisek said she and others were supporters of alkaline hydrolysis as an alternative to cremation back in 2010 when there was opposition to the crematory.

“If this is going to be so much better, I think that’s fabulous,” Bisek said. “We actually suggested it but nobody paid attention to us and we were ridiculed and gaveled and we were called ‘terrorists.’’

The alleged “terrorist” remark occurred at a 2011 city council meeting, in the midst of a two-year effort to install a crematory at the funeral home. During that period, a heated debate broke out between City Hall and a small coalition of citizens over whether or not the council legally issued Ballard-Sunder a conditional use permit to allow the crematory.

The citizens filed lawsuits against the city and state to stop the crematory. A Scott County judge initially ruled in the group’s favor, concluding that “funeral home” and “crematory” were not identical uses in the city’s zoning ordinance, which only listed “funeral home” at the time.

The city council ultimately voted to amend the ordinance to include crematory use, but then-mayor Pete Ewals — who was issued a restraining order that summer after allegedly assaulting Mark Ballard — refused to sign the ordinance for two months. The city once again returned to court, with a judge ruling that Ewals had to sign the ordinance by Dec. 19, 2011, which he did.

At last week’s public hearing, Councilman Robert Whipps said all of that is in the past.

“I understand there is a lot of tension over that, a lot of strong feelings over that, but to break it down simply: we’re either allowing them to offer this green idea ... or we deny it and we’re stuck at square one with no green option,” he said.

The Jordan City Council will take up the issue at its 6:30 p.m. Oct. 21 meeting.