Last May, Americans Helping Americans® announced the launching of a new grant program to provide funding to teachers in struggling school systems in Appalachia which lack the resources to meet classroom needs and other expenses that teachers would like to have to enhance the learning experience for their students – without having to dig into their own pockets to do so.
That’s why we initiated our “Americans Helping Teachers” (AHT) to provide teachers and other educators including school librarians, counselors, administrators and other staff members with cash grants of up to $4,000 to promote new innovative lesson plans or curriculum development, field trips and more.
In August, just in time for the start of a new school year, we introduced our inaugural cohort of dedicated educational professionals seeking the best outcomes for their students.
Among them are Christy Brown and Heather Estep who teach at the Washburn School, a Pre-K-12 Title 1 school located in the foothills of Clinch Mountain in the rural community of Washburn (pop. 3,300) in Grainger County, Tennessee.
Christy, a 25-year veteran teacher (14 years at Washburn) who has served as a kindergarten, first and second grade teacher, told us in her AHT application with Heather, the school’s special education teacher, that the pandemic had highlighted a real need to support students with less traditional methods and interventions for academics and behavioral needs.
“The need has only increased since the onset of the pandemic,” Christy stated in her request for a $4,000 grant to establish designated spaces for students to “retreat and regulate” in comfortable spaces such as “calm down corners” and reset and relaxation stations.
Midway through the school year, Christy and Heather reported recently that the AHT grant has allowed them to do just that.
“Students can take a short break when they become dysregulated, as they may have difficulty learning if their emotional needs are not met. There are options within the calming space to meet students’ emotional, behavior, and/or sensory needs.”
They reported that a space has been created in a kindergarten classroom, and a multi-grade level space is almost completed. In addition, plans have been made to create such a space to serve middle school aged students as well.
Items in the areas include bean bag chairs, touch sensitive lights and other sensory lighting, comfortable rugs, Zen items “and other sensory items that are age-appropriate for each space.”
Students are taught the expectations and regulations of the space, they told us, adding, “This ensures the space can benefit them to the best degree.”
Once the students utilize the strategies and items to calm down, “Then, they are able to have conversations to express their emotions, or they may be able to get right back to class and learning.”
And the outcome is what they expected and hoped for, reporting:
“Student behaviors have improved. We have seen an increase in better behaviors, students feeling better about learning, and students dealing with emotions in new ways.”
And to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who make the AHT grant program possible, Christy and Heather want them to know:
“We are thankful for the opportunity to implement these spaces in our campus to support our students. We are grateful for the generosity of the Americans Helping Teachers grant program.
“We are excited for the future of our students with the support of the calm down spaces.”
Another pair of AHT grant recipients are Renee Foraker and Lauren Sexton who are special education teachers at Rush Strong School, a Pre-k through 8th grade school in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee (pop. 2,200) who are using their $4,000 AHT grant to establish what are known as “Amygdala Recalibration Stations” to provide safe and calming spaces for students.
“Students with behavioral needs would benefit from an area to reset and refocus before entering back into the classroom,” said Renee in their grant application. “We would like to provide a mental health space, the Amygdala Recalibration Station, for students to do just that.”
They also recently reported on the success they’ve seen through the establishment of the recalibration station at their school.
“These spaces have given students an area to take a brief break in their day to retrain their brain and refocus before entering the classroom,” they told us. “Students have been able to develop emotional regulation skills and self-responsibility while being immersed in a calming environment.”
Each space has a shaggy rug, nature photographs, bean bag chairs and “calm down tools” including stress balls, lavender sachets “and other manipulatives.
“Students can use this space when they are feeling overwhelmed, have a behavior outburst or need a safe space. Students recognize that the Amygdala Recalibration Station is used to reset their brain, and not to play.
“When students enter this space, they have the tools to reset their brain and return to instruction.
“Our goal for the end of the year is for students to be able to advocate for themselves when they need the space.”
And based on data collection and teacher observations, “students are using self-regulation skills and applying them to everyday situations.”
Thus far into the school year, they reported that they have seen about 40 students utilize the three spaces and have 12 repeat users who “have extreme behaviors and need a space to calm down more frequently,” adding, “In those students we have seen an increase in self-regulation.”
Among the successes they have seen since the beginning of the year is a decrease in the amount of time it would take for the student to calm down and reenter the classroom from up to around 20 minutes to 10 minutes after sitting in a bean bag chair and use a calm down fidget.
“The student was able to communicate his feelings and tell me what we should do next time.”
In sum, Renee and Lauren, reported “We have seen an improvement in student behavior and ability to self-regulate.
“We are so grateful for the opportunity provide these spaces to our students.
“We appreciate the generosity of the Americans Helping Teachers grant and look forward to seeing the way it will continue to impact our students throughout the school year.”