Foundation for the Future of Delaware County prioritizes mental health of local youth

Students at West Delaware schools are learning coping skills to help them succeed in school and in life through the use of calming tools provided by a grant from the Foundation for the Future of Delaware County, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. 

As part of a district-wide initiative to move toward trauma-informed practices, Lambert Elementary teachers have implemented Zones of Regulation — a new approach to helping students who may have experienced trauma understand what they’re feeling and how to cope with those feelings so they can refocus in the classroom. For example, a student in the “green zone” may feel calm, content and ready to learn, while a student who has reached the “red zone” may be yelling, terrified or angry. 

“We are teaching students the coping skills needed to regulate on their own,” said West Delaware counselor Shelby Piersch. Using fidgets (manipulative items such as putty, stress balls, pinwheels or worry stones) can give students an outlet to channel negative energy and emotions, or simply act as a distraction so they can regain focus. Such tools reduce missed instruction and help provide a supportive learning environment.

“Having calming corners in the classroom allows students to regulate in a few minutes, so negative emotions don’t build to a point where they have to leave the classroom,” said Piersch. “Students will be able to use the items we received from the grant in these corners.”

Coping skills build as students develop, beginning with co-regulation in kindergarten as teachers help students adjust their behavior. By middle and high school, students are able to use “refocus rooms” when they may need a few minutes away. In both middle and high school, counselors work with students through classroom lessons on coping, self-regulation and self-advocacy skills. 

“Our goal is to create learning environments where all students feel safe and welcome,” said Piersch. “Part of that is allowing students space to let out frustrations, anxiousness, sadness and anger and helping them understand it is OK to do so in that space.”

This spring the Foundation for the Future of Delaware County heard from the Delaware County Sheriff, the director of the Regional Medical Center emergency room, and representatives of West Delaware and Maquoketa Valley Schools. Each speaker discussed the role that mental health plays in the lives of patients, students and everyday citizens. 

“We wanted to help with mental health awareness and thought the local schools were a great place to start,” said Vicki Spellerberg, advisory board member of the Foundation for the Future of Delaware County. “We are excited to hear about the results and success of these calming activities and the effect on student behavior.”

To make a lasting impact on youth in your community, contact Nancy Preussner, donor connections coordinator for the Foundation for the Future of Delaware County, at 563-920-5590 or via email.