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Flex Room a place for Sawyer kids to take a break

Dale Delarye uses a computer at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School’s Flex Room. The room allows students to take a “timeout” during the day as needed. (Photo courtesy of K.I. Sawyer Elementary School)

K.I. SAWYER — Most people need a little timeout now and then. However, when a grade schooler is having a bad day, be it due to a lack of sleep, hunger or emotional issue, time away from the classroom can be crucial.

When a teacher at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School notices a student showing signs of needing to be away from a classroom for a bit, that student is sent to the Flex Room, a brightly colored, cheery room with games, a big soft couch and, most importantly, trained professionals to watch over them until they’re ready to return to the classroom.

Connie Sather, who holds a master’s degree in learning disabilities, is the lead teacher in the Flex Room, which is in its second year and is made possible through “at risk” federal funds. The room also has a paraprofessional on hand.

“It’s geared toward providing extra support for our tier 3 behavior kids,” Sather said. “Those are kids who have had a lot of traumatic experiences or just lots of behavior issues that we’re really working hard on.

“But sometimes they just need a break from the everyday classroom environment.”

Sather said staff formerly used the room on a reactive basis. When an issue arose in a classroom, a physical intervention team would subdue the child or take the student out of the room.

She saw flaws in this approach.

Sather spoke with former Gwinn Area Community Schools Superintendent Tom Jayne, telling him what she believed was a better way to diffuse these situations.

“I said, ‘You know, this is what we need. We need a place for these kids. I’ve noticed that when they’re on the run or trying to get away from everybody, they’ll go to a quiet, dark place,'” Sather said.

This could have been under a desk or in the school’s stage area.

It turned out the Flex Room was a better option.

“Nobody will bug them for a few minutes,” Sather said, “and it’s really helped them feel more of a sense of security, having their own little space.”

A teacher, though, has to develop a sense of when students need that space.

Sather said staff has undergone a lot of training regarding trauma.

“We kind of have a good idea of who we’re dealing with to start with,” Sather said. “Over the last year and a half, we’ve pretty much figured out who those kids are, what their trigger times or reasons are, and we kind of pre-empt it.”

Depending on the situation, break times typically last 10 to 20 minutes, she said.

The focus is on getting the youngsters back in the right frame of mind.

“We try to get them back — we call it ‘learning brain,'” Sather said.

When that happens, they’re allowed to return to their classrooms.

How a child spends time in the Flex Room depends, of course, on the child.

“Every kid has a different plan,” Sather said. “What they can do varies. Certain kids, it’s like their thing is LEGOs, so they might come and have a LEGO break, or if they’ve done what they’ve been expected to do in class, then they might have ‘free choice.'”

On the other hand, if a child has had a difficult time in class, there might be only a few options available, and they might not be as appealing to them, she said.

“That way they’re not staying in that upset, heightened mode,” Sather said.

She acknowledged some “meltdowns” are due to being tired or hungry. In these instances, “power naps” or microwave meals can help.

Kids can take part in many activities in the Flex Room, such as using a Phillips head screwdriver in the Flex Room’s “tinker lab” or playing with Bristle Blocks.

With the lab, kids can take apart electronics — wearing safety glasses, of course.

What youngster could resist that?

“Can I do that too?” one boy asked Sather after seeing another boy play with the lab.

Sather said Kinetic Sand — which never dries — always is put out for the students since it has a calming effect.

Sometimes simply reading a book or coloring, though, could be enough to pacify a child.

If a child can get through an entire morning and come to the Flex Room before getting upset, good things may await for that student, such as being part of an art club, Sather said. A youngster who’s experiencing difficulty in a subject also can get special one-on-one help.

Although the Flex Room is run in a discreet way, do students feel stigmatized by having to go there?

Sather doesn’t believe that’s the case.

“I think that they, for the most part, really appreciate the fact that they have the extra support,” she said. “We’ve had students utilizing the Flex Room, then moving to a different district and then coming back, and you can really tell that they have a big appreciation for the extra support.”

Sather has noticed an improvement in the school because of the Flex Room.

“I think it’s helped in the classroom with the teachers,” she said. “They have less disruptions and less interruptions, so they are able to get through their teaching better, and we’re really working on getting these kids acclimated to being able to be in their room.

“The goal would be full time.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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