SAP Elementary School expands mental health support team

By Sarah CR Clark

St. Anthony Park Elementary School has big plans in 2022-2023 for its newly expanded Student Success Team.

The team focuses on supporting students’ mental health and includes new employees, two school counselors (one part-time), a social worker, an assistant principal and a behavioral specialist.

Buoyed by funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, St. Paul Public Schools have expanded the Student Success Team program so all of its schools have these mental health teams.

SAP Elementary Principal Karen Duke said she is excited for her entire school to dive deeply into the popular Zones of Regulation curriculum, led by the Student Success Team. (The curriculum is described as “a social emotional learning framework and pathway to regulation.” –Editor’s note.)

“We all know our kids have been carrying around big anxieties these last few years,” Duke said. “The Zones of Regulation teaches kids about their emotions, how to regulate them and how to use various tools and strategies to help themselves.”

The Zones of Regulation curriculum was created in 2011 by an occupational therapist, Leah M. Kuypers, from Wisconsin and is now an internationally known program.

“The staff we’ve hired has great experience leading this program at other schools,” Duke said.

The Zones are color-coded: the red zone (the “out of control” zone when kids may be feeling anger, rage or terror), the blue zone (when feeling sad, bored, tired or sick), the yellow zone (when feeling excited, silly, frustrated or nervous) and the green zone (when feeling calm, happy, focused and ready to learn).

SAP school counselor Kelly Lynch, who also spends part of her working day at Randolph Heights Elementary, said, “Knowing how their (the students’) bodies feel in different zones teaches kids crucial moments to pause. A student can think, ‘This is what my body feels like when I’m in the red zone. I need to pause before I do anything, because I might make a decision that I’m not proud of.’”

SAP Elementary social worker Rachel Curtis said, “There’s an ideal time for every zone.”

She explained that, for example, the red zone can teach people about boundaries.

“There are times when you want to be mad,” she explained.

Learning takes place in the green zone, but as SAP school counselor Errol Edwards explained, “There are no bad zones! This tool helps kids learn when they’re out of control. And it gives them tools to get themselves back in the green zone.”

When asked what sort of transformations the Zones could bring to SAP Elementary, Lynch said, “It normalizes mental health, that we talk about how we’re feeling as if we would talk about having a sore throat.”

Curtis said she believes that sharing this common language will build a stronger school community.

Meanwhile, Edwards contended, “You’ll be looking at a whole school-wide community, not just the students but the staff too, who are coming to school feeling calmer.

“The common language will help everyone be on the same page,” he continued, adding, “I can see a decrease in discipline referrals, because if you come to school emotionally dysregulated you can’t focus and you won’t be ready to learn.”

As a part of the Zones of Regulation, each class space at SAP Elementary will have a “calming spot” with sensory and breathing tools for kids to use when needed. Also, the Zones include space in some hallways for “regulatory walks” where students can engage in self-directed activities, depending in which zone they find themselves. 

Sarah CR Clark lives in St. Anthony Park and is a regular freelance contributor to the Bugle.

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