Social-Emotional Learning Room Helps Center Boardman Students

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A tree with lights, a saltwater aquarium, animals on the walls and Legos to create with – it’s not Disney World, but Principal Michael Masucci hopes children at Boardman Center Intermediate School are drawn to it, and its calming effects, in the same way.

Nearly a year in the making, the social-emotional learning room will be the place where students learn more than reading, writing and arithmetic. They will learn self-awareness, empathy for others and improved interaction techniques.

They might also get to take a break from the hectic school day and find a peaceful environment to take five minutes to just breathe.

Mahoning County Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick knows how important it can be for young people to learn empathy and tolerance, as well as healthy ways to understand and navigate their own feelings.

“It helps everyone accept everybody, which is what we have to learn to do and realize everyone is not the same,” Dellick said, adding she likes the room because there is something there for every child, as well as a few new things for them to explore.

According to a study from Solitaire Bliss, Ohio ranks the worst in the nation for average time spent on brain-challenging activities and eighth worst for average time spent on brain-boosting activities like reading, walking and cooking.

The importance of social-emotional learning in developing the entire child is not lost on the Ohio Department of Education, which has come out with a group of standards for students at every grade level. Masucci said he is in the process of going through those standards and creating a plan for the room, including some of the speakers and events that will be held in the room. Already this spring, students have heard from speakers with disabilities, tried to open jars while wearing mittens and tried to navigate while wearing glasses that restrict their vision, activities designed to give them a chance to understand how hard life can be for others.

Students have access to giant dice that can open the door to speaking about emotions, and mirrors where they can remind themselves about something they have learned or vowed to do better as they leave the room. In the future, Masucci sees teachers and their classrooms able to use the room, just like they do art, technology, music and physical education. There will be lessons and materials available to address the aspects of social-emotional learning.

Dellick said she is glad the use of the room will be built into the day for students.

A year ago, the room was being used as a second cafeteria, allowing the school to separate more than 800 students during their lunch periods, but Masucci believed that the room has a much better future.

Now the barbecue sauce has been cleaned from the carpet, the walls have been painted nurture green and several murals have been added, including one taken by a local photographer of the waterfall at Mill Creek Park. Perhaps surprisingly to some, Masucci said many children who enter the room have no idea what the mill is or that it is located nearby.

At the beginning of the day, about five students already regularly come into the room, just to center themselves and relax before they start their day.

Margaret Schiavoni, a parent of fourth-grader Louie, said her son is shy and does not like to tell her anything that is going on in his life. She sees this room as another opportunity for him to go, meet other children, make new friends and maybe feel comfortable sharing his feelings about what is happening in his life with someone.

Lena Angiuli, a sixth-grade student, said her favorite part is the saltwater fish tank, which sits along one wall and has a large underwater mural behind it. She said she is excited other students will get to use the room next year.

Her mother, Melanie Angiuli, is president of the PTA, which has donated money for a stationary Copernicus exercise bicycle that children will be able to use next year as a way to move, refocus and relax. The room is also equipped with a large number of yoga mats.

“We wanted to support it as much as we could,” said Angiul, a fitness instructor. “To me, exercise and movement is super important, so I think that goes along with mental health.”

Another addition to the room next year will be a hydroponic chamber case, where students will be able to grow lettuce or other plants. It comes with the benefits of the sound of trickling water, as well as the pride and knowledge students can gain from growing something themselves and getting to eat it.

“Our food service director had a grant and asked if any schools wanted one, and I don’t think I jumped – I think I pounced,” Masucci said.

The room became possible due to a lot of planning, donations and generosity, Masucci said, noting nearly everything there came through generous donations, and it is still in the evolving stages. He wants to see the room have fewer right angles, with the future addition of trapezoid desks on wheels that students can bring together in a circle or separate for a quiet space. He would like comfortable places where they can relax with a book.

Part of the social-emotional learning room committee, Corrine Milentijevic, a clinical supervisor with Alta Behavioral Healthcare, said a lot of the students already may come from hectic homes, and then when they get to school, it is stressful too.

“So this is a great place for kids to come to kind of ground themselves, center themselves, so that they can have the most beneficial time in the school to learn, to foster friendships,” Milentijevic said.

Students can mentor each other and find others with common interests who they might not get a chance to meet or collaborate with because they are in another classroom or another grade level.

Dellick said research shows the brain needs some quiet time to reboot, just like a cellphone. She said students benefit from the opportunity to turn things off about three times a day and just reset. She questions how anyone could not feel relaxed in the room or find some quiet time to reflect.

“When you go out in the hallway, it’s hustle, bustle, running from one class to the other, jogging through the students, getting to your locker, getting out,” Dellick said. “When you come in here, you can finally just relax.”

Pictured at top: From left, Amy Radinovic, communications coordinator with Boardman Local Schools; Corinne Milentijevic, a clinical supervisor with Alta Behavioral Healthcare; Michael Masucci, principal at Boardman Center Intermediate School; and parent Margaret Schiavoni.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.