SPPS ‘calming spaces’ helping ease student minds, improve mental health

SPPS ‘calming spaces’ helping ease student minds, improve mental health

SPPS ‘calming spaces’ helping ease student minds, improve mental health

Many students in St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) have access to a unique way to ease their worries at school.

The district calls them ‘calming spaces,’ but some schools have their own name for the rooms created to help students feeling a bit overwhelmed — they’re in place to improve student mental health.  

“We’re heading into the ‘Time & Space Place,’” Kathy Kimani, director of school support for SPPS, said as she walked into Cherokee Heights Elementary’s calming space.

“We have a lot of comfortable seating,” Kimani added. “You’ve got some headphones here if you want to block out some of the other noise at school.”

There are 30 calming spaces now throughout the district and according to SPPS, they are staffed so that students can, “recharge when they are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or simply need a quiet spot to prepare for their day.”

Funded with COVID-19 relief money, which is a fitting source of funds as in her nearly 30 decades in education, Kimani says the pandemic had had the most significant impact on student mental health.

“We have really seen an increase in young people that [are] just struggling with anxiety, [and] telling us they’re feeling really stressed out, difficulty regulating their emotions,” Kimani said.

And without a clear and calm mind, it’s hard for students to learn — which is why their work goes further than the new spaces.

For decades, the district has teamed up with local mental health experts to help students — that continues this year with the Wilder Foundation leading the way.

The foundation says the biggest benefit of the partnership is having their mental health therapists right in school — eliminating any barriers to care. 

“[It’s] so that we can all support the kids and families, we get a chance to see families at school, at home, in the community,” Dr. Benita Amedee with the Wilder Foundation said.

According to the Wilder Foundation, kids are six times more likely to complete mental health treatments at school than in the community.

“They also partner with our school social workers, our school counselors and educators to see what we can change in our school environment to be more welcoming and help those children be more successful,” Kimani said about the mental health therapists inside schools.