High school introduces ‘quiet room’ to help students cope with stress and anxiety

An empty classroom at South Salem High School has been transformed into a quiet room that students can visit during the day if they are stressed or anxious.

SALEM, Ore. — Children and teens face a lot as they continue to adjust to full-time, in-person learning at school. This year at South Salem High School there is a new addition to help students manage their anxiety and stress.

One of the school’s classrooms has been transformed into a new space for students. It’s called a “quiet room” and it’s a student-led effort that began before the pandemic.

“It’s a space that has been designated by our administrative team for students to come and find a place of peace, find a place to eat, and spend 15 to 20, maybe 30 minutes here, and then go back to class,” said said Ryan Marshall, a school counselor at South Salem High School. Marshall also happens to be Oregon’s School Counselor of the Year.

The students decide for themselves at any time of the day if they need to go to the room to relax. Year 10 student Sid Derosia said that while in-person school is better than being online, this year has been difficult for many students.

“Just having a space to come and be quiet for about 20 minutes and then go back to class is really helpful,” Derosia said.

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The quiet room is busy at all times and is filled with things to relax.

“We have restless spinners, we have […] bean bag chairs, rocking chairs, games, puzzles, homework space if they just need it,” Marshall said. “We’ve got it all.”

Marshall also pointed to an encouragement board with positive messages from other students attached to it.

The Quiet Room came together thanks to about $4,000 in grants and a few thousand more in donations.

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Meanwhile, at Beaverton High School, a similar space opened this year. It’s called the Wellness Lab, and it’s located in the high school’s brand new Wellness Center.

“They are really at the service of the children all day. There are people coming in and out all day for the students, so it’s a really good thing we have it,” said Beaverton High School educator Mary Bengel.

In recent years, Bengel has started giving classes on mindfulness and meditation. She said her classes were full and gave students a chance to breathe and relax.

“The room is dimly lit. We have cute little lamps and garlands around the room. Everyone sits on a folded yoga mat on top of the meditation cushion,” Bengel said.

She said the aim is to help students remember who they are and instill a sense of self-esteem and confidence. Bengel agreed with what other educators observed and said there was a lot of need this year. The result is that the students showed more interest in the class.

“We have more students than we could serve,” Bengel said. “It gives them tools to better understand their stress and anxiety and also provides benefits in terms of communication and mutual support. It goes beyond school.”

Hilda Guiao is a mindfulness teacher and program coordinator for peace in schoolsa nonprofit that has been running similar mindfulness classes at several public high schools in Portland for years.

“Peace in Schools was the first nonprofit to offer mindfulness as an elective class in Portland public schools in 2014. So yes, we are the first in the country to offer a mindfulness elective class for credit,” Guiao said.

They said that in addition to increased student interest, the nonprofit is working with the district to offer a burnout course for educators within the next two months.

Like other teachers, they have noticed that the students are much more stressed than in previous years.

“In the eight years I’ve been a teacher, I’ve never seen so many overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, really depressed students,” Guiao said.

That’s why educators and students say quiet rooms and other efforts are essential for student mental health and well-being.

Marshall said the next project at South Salem High School is to try to create a similar quiet room for staff. He added that discussions were also underway to find ways to create quiet rooms at other high schools.

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