A new pilot project at Heritage Elementary School in Huntingdon and at Howick Elementary School has been put in place, to offer students a centre where their social, emotional, and academic needs are addressed in an innovative play-oriented environment.
Both schools have introduced N.E.S.T. (Nurturing Each Student Today) rooms into their buildings, where students who are not in an emotional state to participate in a classroom environment can come for support.
“The project started last year at Centennial Park School in Chateauguay and is now expanding out to the different schools that wanted to work with the initiative,” says New Frontiers School Board director general Michael Helm. “I think the benefits are clear,” he adds, noting that the board has made resources available for the initiative so student needs can be better addressed. The N.E.S.T. rooms at both Heritage and Howick are staffed by full-time technicians who are available throughout the school day.
The room at Heritage includes a welcome station, where students can identify how they are feeling emotionally, and eleven play-based stations split between two connected rooms where one is calming, with low light, while the other offers a high-sensory space with natural lighting. “They come in angry or sad, and the two technicians turn their attitude around, so they are able to be functional in a classroom,” says Principal James Furey, who explains the room allows students to redirect and address their energy.
“Different kids have different needs. Some have a set schedule, and others can use the room when they need it,” says Furey, who admits the room has seen a lot of traffic since it was opened in September. During its first month open, the N.E.S.T. saw 212 visits. In October, the number of visits to the room jumped to 342. The room is used by students at all grade levels, and Furey estimates that roughly 15 per cent of the population in each grade has made use of the room.
“Office referrals have gone way down,” says Furey, who admits students who would previously have been sent to sulk in the office are now able to self-regulate their emotions in the N.E.S.T.
A beautiful tool
Howick Elementary opened its N.E.S.T. room in October, after construction within the school delayed its launch. “This allowed our technicians to be in the class and to get to know and see the kids’ needs,” says Principal Melanie Primeau.
The N.E.S.T. is in what used to be the boy’s locker room. It includes different workstations and a sensory break area. Some kids use the room in the morning, while others are scheduled throughout the day, depending on their needs. Like Heritage, the school is already seeing positive results.
“It’s not a punishment, and it’s not a reward – it is a tool,” explains Primeau. “It has helped so many students already this year,” she says. “Some kids needed a check-in at the beginning of the year, but they have now learned how to read their emotions and know what they need to get through their day,” she adds, noting the time in the room is often self-directed.
“It is giving them beautiful tools,” Primeau says, noting the positive impact that the room has had on students and their ability to regulate their emotions and work through issues in a positive way.