During homeroom, Jennie Diep-Nguyen, 16, said she would normally be on her phone or catching up on homework. Either way, she would be stressed.

Instead, Diep-Nguyen spent a recent Friday homeroom before lunch laughing with two friends and pouring gold glitter into a small bottle of water.

It was the week before holiday break, so they had just finished end-of-the-year tests.

“It’s a good opportunity to get away from all of it,” Diep-Nguyen said.

The three Shakopee High School juniors were making “calming jars” they could shake when stressed out. While the glitter settles they are suppose to work on calming breathing techniques.

This was just one of five sessions about de-stressing seniors Betsy Berens, Sarah Gentrup, Makenzie Johnson and Mikayla Thompson organized in the fall as part of the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) program.

“We got to pick from different options and I just felt like we all connected most with what Change to Chill had to offer with stress management,” Berens said.

Change to Chill is a free, online resource for teenagers that explains stress and provides activities on deep-breathing, mindfulness and life balance. It was created by Allina Health, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit health system that runs hospitals, including St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, and clinics and other resources throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

But before the group members were working with their peers, they were learning the benefits of stress-reduction techniques firsthand. All four went through training first with Allina Health in order to create their own lessons and teach workshops.

“I feel like we didn’t have the knowledge of what [stress] actually is,” Johnson said. “There’s so many physical things that you can feel, like a headache, that can be caused by stress and I didn’t know.”

In training they learned methods of relaxation like mindful eating and movement, which have little tricks to help people stay calm at any time in the day. Sometimes it’s as simple as just acknowledging you are stressed and why, Berens said.

“It really has helped me through school with time management,” she said. “I just don’t think about it as much as I do now.”

Susan Nygaard, manager of community health improvement at Allina, said she works with schools to promote Change to Chill’s online resources with posters or organizing workshops. But Shakopee High is the first school to have workshops during school hours where students teach other students. The project could have broader impacts.

“They’re creating a model we can use in other schools,” Nygaard said. “The school has carved out time where they can talk and do that hands-on application. … I think that’s beneficial.”

At the first in-school session, Johnson said only one person showed up. But that same afternoon 20 students showed up to the second session. Each week they’ve seen more students join in.

The largest session had about 80 students and not enough seats to accommodate them all.

“Obviously there’s interest,” Nygaard said.

Before starting the sessions, the group circulated a survey throughout Shakopee High to gauge if students were stressed. They received about 1,000 responses; 94 percent said academics kept them stressed.

“Jobs, school, athletics … We’re managing all these different things and trying to balance them out,” Berens said. “I think Change to Chill is one of the things that can help student not just manage it but guide them to know it’s OK if you’re stressed.”

Through the five weeks of sessions, students learned from Change to Chill website videos, stretched, and socialized over coloring books.

Katie Sutton, 16, who was creating a calming jar with Diep-Nguyen, said that she received a coloring book for Christmas last year but before going to the Change to Chill sessions it went unopened.

“You learn new ways to cope with your stress” Sutton said. “I’ve started using my coloring book more. “

With pressure to get good grades and scholarships for college, she’s also started doing smaller distressing exercises like tightening and releasing her fist before tests.

“It might be different for each person but as long as they’re seeing positive results, I’d be happy,” Thompson said.

To learn more about Change to Chill and stress reduction tips for youth and adults, go to www.changetochill.org.

Digital Content Coordinator

Jo Herrera is the digital content coordinator for all SWN newspapers and focuses on investigations. They are passionate about online and in-person community engagement. Jo also plays roller derby, does yoga and pampers their two cats and two bunnies.

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