North Middle School Finds New Solutions to Mental Health Battles

Mental health has a profound impact on our lives. Whether we see people struggling with mental health challenges around us, or we struggle with them ourselves, we have all, at some point, felt the repercussions of a mental health issue. Lynbrook North Middle School has recently taken a big step to alleviate this issue in its school; the opening of the Wellness Room at North was both a student and faculty-led project that supports research about mental health in schools and how to combat this rising problem.

There is a copious amount of research that portrays how school has a profound impact on children’s mental health. With most mental health conditions developing by age 14, it has also been discovered that one in five children have a mental health condition. These numbers are rising and less than half of these diagnosed individuals do not receive the help that they need. While there may be many causes to this lack of access to help, there is a clear answer on how to solve the problem: integrate mental health professionals into the school environment to create a healthier school climate and student body. By schools giving students the help they need, when they need it, research proves that students will have the efficacy to succeed academically. This will also decrease the number of mental health issues seen within a school each day.

There are many organizations whose goal is to promote mental health, including mental health in schools. A prime example of this is the organization NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). A statement by the organization reads, “[NAMI] supports funding to allow schools to train faculty and staff on the early warning signs of mental health conditions and how to link students to services….NAMI believes that every school should also be able to provide school-based and/or school-linked mental health services. School-based mental health services bring trained community mental health professionals into schools, where school-linked mental health services link families to resources in the community.” Many schools have taken information synonymous to the advice proposed by NAMI to heart; these schools, including Lynbrook North, are doing everything in their power to provide a safe and positive environment for their students to thrive in.

The first step to transform Lynbrook North into a calming mental space was their mental health room. This room is a safe haven for students to frequent throughout the day whenever they need a moment to calm down. The room was created because many students urged the staff to create a calm space in the building. This room embodies all of the elements of a calm space, from its light blue walls, to its wave designs, and finally, to its photographs, which were taken by LHS guidance counselor Jonathan Spector who shared that “[The teachers leading the project] reached out to me to donate pictures to their Wellness Room (They know I have a photography business and have donated to charities for children). They said they wanted to send a message of calmness and relaxation to students and staff at North. The two pictures I donated were recently taken in Southern California. They are printed on canvas and size 24×36. I did see the Wellness Room and think the room looks wonderful!” The project was a hands-on one, and donations came from both the PTA and board members; students and staff alike worked to turn the dream of this room into a reality.

The teacher behind the project is school psychologist Marie Toscano. She revealed she was inspired to create the room “…after several students expressed a need for a calm space within the school building. Before beginning the project, I visited two mindfulness rooms in local schools to get some ideas. I then asked the students at North Middle School what they wanted the room to include. The students wanted comfortable seating, low lighting, games, music, etc. It was important to me that the students were included in the planning and design of the room. I was fortunate to have many students who were excited to take this project on with me. Some students painted a mural on the wall which reads ‘Just Breathe.’ Other students assisted in the decorating and design of the room. Overall, it was a group effort and it turned out exactly as we had hoped.” Toscano added “The Wellness Room is designed for students to access throughout the day and provides a variety of practices they can employ to help them find more success in school. As soon as the Wellness Room opened, students were excited to spend time here. Some students like to begin their day in the Wellness Room. They have said that it helps them to focus, connect with their friends and counselors, and begin their day with a positive mindset. Other students enjoy spending time in the Wellness Room during their lunch period. Students are also using the room when they feel overwhelmed and they need a break. In the Wellness Room, students can take time to explore calming techniques, cognitive strategies and sensory supports to deepen their understanding of how to self-regulate their emotions. It also serves as a place to provide students with individual and group counseling throughout the school day.” The hard work Ms. Toscano put into the room has begun to make a big difference in many student’s daily lives.

This room opened at the beginning of 2020 and has ameliorated the stress of many students’ days. Another North staff member who was involved in the creation of the room was school social worker Sandra Gettenberg. She explained that the project took off after “Ms. Toscano’s visit to a Levittown elementary school wellness room,” and was inspired by “…current trends in the workplace. Companies like Google have rooms on their campuses where employees can relax and recharge. The modern office space has evolved so we thought that since school is where young people work, why not create a space where students could reflect and rewind as well.” Working alongside Toscano, Gettenberg’s work for the children has had a profound impact on many students.

Most importantly, the room has bolstered the students’ mood and helped them remain calm throughout their day. Gettenberg added, “Our Wellness Room provides many opportunities for student to not only relax, but [also] to learn and practice fundamental life skills such as managing emotions. We think that with the creation of this Wellness Space we will start to see a shift in student behaviors. It is our hope that regular, short breaks in a quiet and calm space will help promote the health and well-being of our students.  The NMS Wellness Space is already a sought-after retreat!” As revealed, this room is already helping the students at North Middle School to take a step to improve their mental health.

Positive mental health is necessary for a student to learn and thrive. A school has the ability to promote this healthy head space, and by doing so, they are giving students support they may not have the resources to obtain elsewhere. Lynbrook North Middle School was the most recent school in the Lynbrook School District to take an important stride in the promotion of mental health. The creation of their Wellness Room has created a calm space for their students to visit throughout their days. Without a positive mental headspace, one cannot accomplish anything; it is the utmost important aspect of one’s life. Using resources to obtain a positive mental health space helps people to thrive.