Burnsville High School senior Katie Fritz felt overwhelmed by stress when she took a job after school last year.
She worried about her grades and struggled to find time to calm her mind in between class, work and extracurriculars.
This year, Fritz and classmate Kylie Krick, a junior, designed the high school’s chill room, where students can spend a few moments away from class to help manage stress and anxiety.
Fritz, who solves puzzles to manage her anxiety, said she’s excited to bring a new resource to students facing similar challenges.
“I wish the chill room would have been here last year because then I would have had a space to be able to take a break and have some time to myself,” she said. “Back then I really didn’t know what I could do to help calm me down.”
Burnsville High School was selected for Allina Health’s Change To Chill partnership this year.
Fritz and Krick completed paid summer internships through the program and received $1,000 for creating a “Chill Zone” at their school. The partnership also provides ongoing support with mental health training for school staff and free, online resources.
Students at Jordan High School participated in the same project this year as well.
“Allina Health, through its CTC program, is helping teens manage stress, improve their mental well-being and build resiliency,” Susan Nygaard, Allina Health’s manager of community health improvement, said in a statement.
“CTC empowers teens to identify what is causing them stress and provides them with the tools, resources and confidence to care for their mental well-being.”
A recent study by the American Physiological Association found the percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders has risen significantly over the past decade and nearly one in three teenagers experience an anxiety disorder.
Veronica Marshall, a longtime school counselor at Burnsville High School, said she believes technology is a part of the problem because it hinders developmental skills in early childhood, causing older students to struggle more with resolving issues and managing stress.
“I definitely see a whole different level of anxiety and stress for students,” she said, describing conflict and anxiety as running up the mountain.
Marshall said it’s important for students to discover healthy coping skills to walk back down that mountain step by step. The chill room, equipped with comfortable furniture, books, puzzles, a sound machine and other de-stressing items, is a place for students to find those skills.
“We really wanted it to be a room for students to understand their stress and learn how to work on that on their own,” Krick said. “We got to really play around with different things that would make students feel like this is their own space.”
Fritz and Krick used the grant money and $600 in donations to re-furnish, paint and decorate the room this summer.
“It was really exciting because we got to create something from a student’s perspective, which doesn’t happen very often,” Krick said.
Fritz and Krick said they hope the chill room will help all students, not just those living with a diagnosed mental illness.
“You don’t need to be diagnosed with anything,” Fritz said. “If you need a break, there’s a space for you to go take a break.”
Minnesota is ranked the third worst state in the country for counselor-to-student ratios, Marshall said.
There are six full-time school counselors at Burnsville, or more than 400 students per counselor. The American School Counselor Association calls for a ratio of 250 students to one counselor.
The high school’s counseling department’s staff has been trimmed over the past three years in budget cuts, while the district’s other student support services haven’t been affected.
Marshall said she’s hopeful district leaders will invest in counseling resources regardless of finances.
“There’s such a need for students’ emotional and mental health, and without adequate people it’s not working,” she said. “We are trying to do the best we can with what we have.”