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Blount Cty, TN: "Every school" has added a 'calming room'

Dec 27, 2019, Maryville (TN) Daily Times: Blount County Schools creates 'calm rooms,' looks to Behavior Intervention Center Blount County Schools has added a “calming room” to every school and is considering a Behavior Intervention Center for elementary students at its alternative campus to deal with a growing number of students with severe social, emotional and behavioral issues. Previously a school with 350 students might have had one or two students that needed a lot of support. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in that, especially in kindergarten coming in,” said April Herron, principal at Middlesettlements Elementary School. “You may have three or four students just in one grade who really need a lot of support in how to handle big emotions.” “We anticipate that will continue to spike,” said Amanda Vance, special education supervisor for Blount County Schools. Director Rob Britt often refers to it as a rising tide, one other local districts also have noted and striving to serve…. Educators have seen a rise in children entering kindergarten “not knowing how to do school,” Vance said, “but we’ve also seen a rise in students that have experienced traumas that we would hope none of us would ever face.” That includes sexual abuse, physical abuse or emotional abuse. “They may not know where their next meal is coming from or who is coming in and out of their home,” Vance said. “Trauma is everywhere,” she said and can look different for every child. One may be reeling from the death of a grandmother who was her caregiver. A teen may be devastated by a comment on social media. The loss of a pet can be particularly hard on a student who is not very social and has no close human friends…. A child may arrive at school anxious or upset. The student who appears to be out of control, running down the hallway in the morning may be so hungry the only thing he focuses on is reaching the cafeteria. One who is overwhelmed may lie on the classroom floor and cry. What outsiders see as simple misbehavior educators have learned is more…. At the same time students are arriving at school not knowing how to get along with others and what do do when they are angry. “Conflict resolution is really something that we’ve seen a decline in,” Herron said. “We need to teach our kids skills and what to do in situations where they feel out of control.”… So the schools are responding with a variety of strategies, training staff members in “trauma-informed practices,” how to reach students in those situations and creating spaces so they don’t disrupt learning for others…. When children are angry or anxious and don’t know how to talk about their feelings and calm themselves, “It may come across as they are yelling. Sometimes they are throwing or hitting,” Byrd explained…. Educators refer to a child being “dysregulated.”… Creating calm Over the past year BCS has added at least one “calming room” to every school, a space for students who can’t be in the classroom as they calm down. They all look a bit different, but there may be a filter over the light fixture and soft furniture create a soothing atmosphere. “You worry about number one what those kids have been exposed to and where that’s coming from, but then also exposing other kids in their class,” Herron said…. Middlesettlements and Lanier Elementary each received a two-year state “Trauma-Informed Schools” grant that funded not only training but also resources for a “calming area” in each classroom. Maryville College partnered with three other schools to create their calming rooms…. Blount County has trained bus drivers in “de-escalation techniques,” how to talk students down instead of engaging in power struggles. Every kindergarten and prekindergaren teacher has been trained in crisis prevention intervention, learning details such as how body position and tone of voice can soothe a student. They also learn a safe way to hold students in the most extreme situations, so the child is not a danger to themselves or others. As the educators learn what works, they also are training the children to manage themselves. At Middlesettlements Elementary the prekindergarten teacher has a “work it out” mat, where a student who is having a conflict can invite a classmate to settle the situation. Teachers, teaching assistants as well at other staff members at every school have received training in how to recognize triggers and manage behavior…. Behavior Intervention Center “There’s still a percentage of students that need more intensive therapeutic opportunities, including counseling services, they also need the support of a social worker or a certified behavior analyst,” Vance said. BCS is working on a proposal to create a Behavior Intervention Center with that support at the district’s alternative campus, the Samuel Everett School of Innovation. The idea is to send a small number of students there on a short-term basis. One of the challenges to resolve is how to provide transportation to students who could be enrolled at 14 different schools across the county….


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