By Erin Albanese
In a room at Godwin Heights High School that formerly served as the site for in-house suspension, students now come for help in the areas of college, career and comfort.
The Empowerment Room is a recently revamped space serving a two-pronged purpose: a needed area for decompression and quiet, and a place to think big about the future.
“It’s a humongous paradigm shift,” said school counselor Kristi Bonilla, referring to it as a place of support rather than punishment. “The hope, goal, dream of this is that kids feel like they have a place to reset, recharge, refocus and be empowered.”
While the room is still in its infancy, Bonilla and fellow counselor Tish Stevenson envision it as a place where students can take momentary refuge. It could be during lunch, when they have time outside of class, or when the demands of teenage life bubble over and they need to reel in their emotions. They can also use it to channel their energy into preparation for what comes after graduation day.
“We wanted it to be a center for yoga, breathing and reset time,” Stevenson said. “We also wanted it to be a place for community members to meet with students.”
Meetings have already taken place between students and representatives from college, the military and the Urban League, who helped students apply for jobs.
Yoga sessions will begin soon.
Funded by a $1,000 grant from Wyoming Community Foundation, the room’s seating area has space for reclining and relaxing, comfy chairs and pillow. Yoga mats fill a corner bin, ready for poses. Students come in for the peacefulness, to talk to the counselors and eat lunch in a quiet place.
“We have a long day,” Stevenson said. “If you are a teenager mixing in with all the other teenagers in the day, you need a break.”
Equipping Students with Lifelong Skills
Bonilla and Stevenson have both completed training in cognitive behavior modification at the University of Michigan. They are using it to help students become more mindful, aware and rational in reacting to situations.
The end goal is to improve learning and develop lifelong skills, plus decrease detentions and suspension using a non-punitive approach. While the school still uses detentions and in-house and out-of-school suspensions, the counselors aim to be proactive in addressing behavior issues.
Common stressors in teens’ lives include test anxiety, social anxiety, family issues and relationships. Those things often manifest themselves as behavior problems.
“Being a teenager is stressful,” Stevenson said.
Juniors Mamadee Diabate and Dominic Donato juggle between classes at Godwin Heights and programs at Kent Career Technical Center, as well as working and volunteering. They both often come to the room to relax and talk with counselors.
“I feel it will be beneficial for our students because there’s a lot of stress going on,” Mamadee said. “I definitely will use it for yoga.”
“It’s kind of a relaxing place to let stuff come out,” Dominic said, “… not talk to anyone, and just be quiet.”
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