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.”

Southwest News Media reporter Christine Schuster also contributed to this story.

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