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Physical activity groups, quiet rooms and mental health clubs among the ways D204 focusing on socio-emotional wellness

The Beacon-News - 1/25/2022

Jan. 26—Physical activity groups, quiet relaxation rooms and mental health clubs are among the ways Indian Prairie School District 204 is helping students cope with stress and other factors that can trigger mental health issues.

At Monday's school board meeting, staff and students briefed board members on three school social-emotional programs that are among several the district is trying as they work to make mental health a priority.

At Metea Valley High School, about 30 students meet every other Tuesday as part of the Mental Health Matters club, which was started in the 2017-18 school year following the death of two students by suicide.

"No one at the school really talked about mental health too much, and it was the big elephant in the room," Metea Valley student Michelle Jurec told the board. "But ever since I joined Mental Health Matters, it's been easier to talk about what I and others are going through.

"I'm very glad it's provided such a comfortable space for everyone," she said.

The club does such things as bringing in therapy dogs for visits, holding special programs during Mental Health Awareness Week and Suicide Prevention Month and coming up with stress buster activities during finals, she said.

Board member Susan Demming said she was impressed by the wide variety of approaches being taken.

"It shows how (social-emotional learning) doesn't have to be cookie cutter," she said. "No one has to say this is the way it has to be done. It's invigorating, it's inspiring."

At Young Elementary School, about a quarter of fifth-grade students participate in Fit Young Learners, a physical activity program that meets Thursdays before the start of school.

In addition to getting active, students read excerpts from the book "Way of the Warrior Kid," a story of a fifth-grade student who's working to better himself physically and mentally. They also reflect on personal goals, fears, accomplishments and achievements, said Anthony Pape, a music teacher who oversees the program.

He's been impressed by students opening up about their own physical struggles and starting to show leadership skills, he said. And the students keep him on is toes about his own physical activities as well, he said.

School psychologist Tanya Shea said surveys reveal many students want to get physically and mentally stronger and build their self confidence.

This year, Fischer Middle School introduced the "Falcon Nest," a room in which students can quietly chat, work or rest with friends or by themselves prior to the start of school on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Social-emotional learning/academic coach Shelli Kelsey said they have about four students a day spend time at the Falcon Nest.

"We haven't had the same four kids every day, and this is what surprised us. We've had students ... stay with us for two weeks, three weeks and then it starts to taper off. Almost as if they got what they needed," she said. "It just keeps evolving, different students keep coming."

Board President Laurie Donahue said it's been good to see the social and emotional wellbeing of students become as a top goal.

Board member Mark Rising thanked the schools for their unique efforts.

"Most of the time we won't identify the kids that are struggling," he said. "We need to keep creating that culture within every single one of our schools so that all the students know they are not alone."


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