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Helping Students Deal with High Anxiety at North Park Collegiate

A student and teacher hold up a completed woodworking project

Caption: Student Chris, with guidance from Rob Natress, holds up a completed shoe shelf, built from scrap pieces of wood during breaks through the school day

Students at North Park Collegiate and Vocational School dealing with anxiety issues affecting attendance, and coping with daily, difficult-to-manage stress levels have found a new outlet to ground themselves.

Through the Mixed
Exceptionalities (M.E.) classes, Special Services, and Student Success departments at the school, students are completing interest-based projects as a means of stress reduction and fostering healthy interactions to refocus their personal goals.

Room 220 is known as a work skills room, an M.E. classroom, a resource room, and even a lunch room -- it's different things to different students, and I'm truly amazed with the different styles of learners who use this space as their home base," shares Niki Carpenter, one of the Resource and M.E. teachers. “The idea of this space is that students have a safe place to work on their academics, but can also take self-directed breaks as they need to chat about their day, while pursuing their interests as a means of relaxation and bettering their mental health.”

Creating a safe, welcoming environment is key. Students come in throughout the day to make coffee, access a snack or meal, or to have a safe inviting place to work or take a break. Teachers and Educational Assistants in this classroom setting gain time with students to determine unique needs, and then as a next step can help students help themselves through building self-confidence.

“We try to encourage students to find and identify their natural talents.Then, we simply provide activities to highlight their skills,” says Rob Natress, one of the Educational Assistants who supports the M.E. students and many of the other students who share this workspace. Rob is one of the main staff members who assists in finding things that students are interested in so they feel a sense of personal investment and pride in their work.

Natress shares success story after success story through this unique M.E. class.

A student holds up a completed woodworking project

Caption: Another woodworking project completed as part of the informal program that is reducing stress levels

“Alex, a senior student, shared that he liked the idea of learning how to cook for himself, but the task of making a home-cooked meal was daunting," Nattress shared.

So, together with a group of M.E. students, Alex compiled a list of groceries needed for specific meals, shopped for the items and learned to cook specific meals during his time in the classroom. An a-ha moment came when Natress observed that students were not only developing cooking skills, but also practicing therapeutic peer dialogue and healthy communication skills. The students came to see the classroom as a space to share thoughts and feelings, and as a result, saw a decrease in anxiety levels.

Creating safe, inclusive, welcoming spaces is an important pillar in Grand Erie's Multi-Year Plan, and its Well-Being indicator fosters environments that recognize the well-being of mind, body, emotion, and spirit so students can achieve success.

Natress hopes the students can now take these skills forward into their daily lives. As staff continue to help students remove personal barriers, and assist in creating a supportive, inviting environment, students are feeling more creative and are happier. Staff at North Park have observed the positive effects this effort is having!

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