Zen-like rooms offer respite to students, teachers, staff at Garinger HS

CHARLOTTE — Social and emotional wellbeing has taken on renewed importance at the high school after the loss of several students in fatal shootings and car crashes this school year.

“When students are in trauma, then some of that behavior can come out in the classroom,” said Monica Stevenson, who is a school psychologist.

Stevenson reworked part of her larger office and turned it into a makeshift on-campus mental health wellness spa.

“(It’s) someplace where they can come for 20 minutes, decompress,” Stevenson said. “It’s a safe space, and they can transition back to class.”

Stevenson put $200 of her own money into creating The Zen Den in January.

“I have a lot of tactile things for them to touch,” Stevenson said. “They also have to have a snack and sip of water.”

Senior Bryanna Feamster has become one of The Zen Den’s regulars.

“Get some time to yourself,” she said. “Try to gather yourself. Gather your thoughts.”

She added, “I take what I’m dealing with at home with me to school with me, so when I get here in the mornings sometimes, I might need to go to The Zen Den first.”

She said the dimly lit room gives her a chance to re-focus in a quiet environment.

“It’s like a weighted blanket in there,” she said. “I didn’t even know that I needed that until I went in there.”

Feamster said she enjoys meditating, listening to music, and completing schoolwork.

Principal Leduan Pratt said The Zen Den is proving its worth.

“It is a space where they can make sure that they get their minds together, and it allows them to avoid things like suspension,” Pratt said.

The success of The Zen Den prompted the idea of developing a similar initiative for the school’s teachers and support staff.

Stevenson applied for and won a $3,000 grant to turn a mobile classroom into The Calming Room.

“With all the things that we have going on today in schools and what we have going on in education, it’s good for teachers to have a place where they can go, relax,” Pratt said. “It’s a nice calm place. Kind of reminds you of the spa.”

Pratt said it offers more than the typical teacher breakroom.

“That’s a more communal space,” Pratt said. “You have copy machines in there.”

Stevenson said The Zen Room and The Calming Room have become perfect places for a quick mental health recharge after dealing with daily life and multiple tragedies.

“These types of spaces are so important for people to reconnect to themselves, renew their strength,” Stevenson said.

Feamster said it has helped her be a better student and though it might not be the in-thing for teens to tap into their feelings.

“For me, it’s helped a lot,” she said. “It’s made me want to come to school, so that’s all that matters.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools received $7.3 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding for student wellness and academic support.

That money allowed the district to hire 63 additional counselors, social workers, and psychologists.

That funding is at risk of going away when those COVID-19 stimulus dollars expire at the end of the year.

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