Michele Cote-img

Michele Cote, CMS Principle

Colchester Middle School (CMS) is teaching its students to take a pause. The school launched the Brain Body Connection (BBC) program this year, where a handful plus of students can take a scheduled break during the day—just 10 minutes—to use a variety of stress-relieving tools.

The idea is to “fidget with intention,” said CMS Principal Michele Cote; empowering students to think more cognitively in identifying and responding to their feelings.

Before the program, Cote said that students who had too much energy, who felt lethargic, or who needed to take a break were encouraged to leave class to walk the halls for a few minutes before returning to class.

“That didn’t meet the needs of our kids,” said Cote. “We want them to be in class and it’s not proactive. We’re not teaching them what they need.”

Part of the BBC program is about empowering students to identify their feelings instead of feeling like they’ve hit a road block.

“Empowering them to realize that they have a choice in how they feel, and that they can change how they feel,” explained school services clinician Haley Koperski, who has been working with individual students in the program. “Sometimes there’s a gap, a missing piece, between kids not really having an awareness of what’s happening in their body and how that impacts their behavior,” she said.

For 10 scheduled minutes during the day, students in the program go to the BBC classroom with a school counselor or social worker. The room is outfitted with “up regulating” and “down regulating” activities, according to Koperski, which refers to the tool’s purpose. For example, part of the classroom has a comfy, quiet corner for kids in need of relaxation. The corner includes low-lights, a weighted blanket, kinetic sand, magnets, and essential oils, among other sensory-based tools. Tools like a rocking chair or a swinging hammock help students to “tune into the present moment,” said Koperski.

The space also offers more active body-based activities including an exercise bike, a pull-up bar, a weighted medicine ball, a yoga ball, and a ladder.

Before and after each session, students check in with a counselor to go over what activities they’re attracted to, what kinds of tools work or don’t work, and what kind of progress the student is making.

Cote described the BBC as space for kids to figure out skills that help them handle the expectations of middle school. “School is stressful, outside of school is stressful, sports are stressful,” said Cote. “Regardless of your street address, life is stressful.”

Last year, a school psychologist worked with staff to discuss resiliency and trauma in kids, and how that manifests in the classroom. Cote pointed to this experience as one of the first steps to creating a foundation for teachers to better understand students’ needs.

As part of the BBC initiative, CMS outfit every classroom with “toolboxes,” to help “teachers expand their own abilities to help kids regulate,” Cote said. Toolboxes include fidget spinners, stress balls, and other objects that students can use during class. This means that every student at CMS has access to some form of stress tool, even if they don’t have 10 minutes dedicated to it during the day.

Part of this is to continue efforts not to stigmatize this scheduled pause; part of that is to encourage kids in the program to work towards a place where they can identify their feelings and feel empowered to use their own tools.

“All of us need to pause sometimes,” said Cote. “It’s not about making them feel different or weird.”

Cote and Koperski emphasized the collaborative effort that went into creating the program, from school admin, to counselors, to the district occupational therapist, and many more people. Cote also credited Barre City Elementary School, where she worked previously, with much of the guidance for the CMS program.

Only about 15 students are part of BBC so far, but Cote hopes to offer the scheduled pause to more students in the future.

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