Fort Clarke Middle School cut the ribbon on a new calm room Tuesday. The room was funded with a $5,000 matching grant from the Cook Center for Human Connection, a Utah-based nonprofit that aims to improve mental health and prevent suicide across the nation.
The calm room is a space reserved for students to work on self-regulating their emotions. Fort Clarke took half of what used to be a testing room and created a low-lit area with sensory activities such as balls, pillows, coloring books, origami and bubble lamps.
“It's really an empowering thing for students, because if you can control your emotions, you can control the rest of your day,” Anne Brown, Cook Center CEO, said at the ribbon cutting.
The space will be available throughout the school day for students to take a moment to calm themselves when they feel distressed. Toni Griffin, Alachua County’s supervisor of school counseling and student services, said ACPS offered the calm room to Fort Clarke after receiving the grant, but she would be glad to see a calm room in every school in the district.
The Cook Center received 70 applications for calm room grants this year, but only awarded 20. Griffin, who wrote the grant with Anntwanique Edwards, chief of equity, inclusion, and community engagement, said she believes they were able to express that ACPS not only needed a calm room, but that the room would be integrated into the school day to improve the quality of instruction time.
“If you think about the big picture, resetting now for five or 10 minutes decreases the amount of missed instruction later,” Griffin said. “If we can catch it now, let them regulate, then that could recreate a student's entire day where, if we didn't do that, then maybe it would escalate the behavior... So let's try to prevent it. Let's try to catch it and be proactive instead of reactive.”
The $5,000 grant requires the school district to match the funds, but it can meet that requirement through supplies or services such as having facilities staff paint the room.
Every Cook Center calm room looks a little different, designed by their own districts, according to Adele Winter, the Cook Center’s vice president for advancement. She said ACPS and Fort Clarke did a good job of incorporating colors and touch to help students find their calm.
Fort Clarke scheduled the ribbon cutting during its orientation so that parents and families could see it before school begins. Students filed into the room moments after it opened, scraping sand, reading signs and hugging pillows. As administrators stood by, they could hear the children remarking how peaceful the room felt, and how they could live there forever. Griffin said hearing those comments validated for her the need for a calm room.
Griffin said she and Edwards met representatives from the Cook Center at a mental health summit in 2021. They began talking about what services the Cook Center offers, and last year ACPS began using the Cook Center’s resources for parents, including parentguidance.org, which helps parents understand their children’s emotional development and provides parent coaching.
“I think when we raise children, everybody needs to play a part,” Winter said. “The school district, the parents, foundations like ours. We all need to link arms and work together to have beautiful communities and raise beautiful children.”