Prior Lake Teacher Shining a Light on Student Well-Being

Updated: 01/31/2014 4:49 PM
Created: 01/31/2014 1:49 PM
By: Megan Stewart

One south metro teacher has taken matters into her own hands to prevent student absences, and better their overall health, by adding a little sunshine.

Alison Zak, a teacher at Twin Oaks Middle School in Prior Lake, said she noticed the winter months bringing a higher rate of absences and illnesses in her students.

Zak is a part of the ATLAS program at the school. ATLAS, which stands for Achieve To Learn Academic Success, uses unique instructional approaches for students in grades 7 and 8 who struggle in a traditional school setting, according to the school. She has two students who have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that typically occurs each year during fall and winter.

Zak, along with the school guidance counselor, came up with the idea of SAD lamps to have in her classroom. According to a report from the Mayo Clinic, light therapy boxes can offer effective treatment for SAD.

Light boxes mimic outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD, the report said.

She started using the lamps in her classroom Thursday. She said students have had a positive response to the light fixtures, which the students soak in for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Makers of the lamps say excess use can have adverse effects such as irritability and hyper activity.

Zak was able to buy them with a $500 grant she received from the Laker Educational Foundation. The school purchased five lamps, three for the classroom and two that will be used in the guidance office.

"We felt they were important to the students," Zak said. "I know there is a lot of emphasis on testing scores and educational development, but middle school is also a time of tremendous social and emotional growth."

Students at Twin Oaks Middle School do classwork in front of a new SAD lamp.
Photo: Alison Zak

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