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Entering a Calm Space

As they and their peers returned to in-person learning following the darkest days of the pandemic, SkillsUSA California students developed a community service project designed to support the mental health of their classmates.
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Kennedy HS project leaders
Pictured from L-R: Samuel Jimenez, Devon Degetter, Leo Kahlenberg. Photo by Janet CantoreWatson.

When students from John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, Ca., began returning to in-person education after the pandemic started to ease, it wasn’t always a smooth transition. Stress was often heightened as students began adjusting to personal interactions again with their peers and teachers while navigating a “new normal.”

SkillsUSA students from the school noticed, and they took it upon themselves to create a meaningful community service project designed to improve their peers’ mental health.

“We were obviously coming out of a pandemic, and it was hard to start everything again and get our chapter motivated and everyone involved,” says Devon Degeeter, the SkillsUSA chapter president at the school. “And then we started working with the ‘Kennedy Cares’ office [which provides counseling and other services to students], and they thought that having a calming room for students to just relax in, decompress and just have some time to calm down would be a great idea.”

After teaming up with the school’s psychiatric social worker and administration to find a location in the school that would work, the students settled on an old, unused dean’s office.

With the go-ahead from the school management, architecture students from the school designed the new space, researched furniture and supplies, created a shopping list, planned fundraisers, reached out to industry for additional support, built the furniture and assembled the room. The room includes a white noise machine, comfortable and fun furniture, stress-relieving and squeezable “cushies,” and calming artwork created by school students.

SkillsUSA students raised all the funds needed to pay for everything, a total of nearly $2,500. The students gifted the Calming Room to the school during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 6, 2022, and many school officials were present.

The lead students presented the project as part of the 2022 SkillsUSA Outstanding Chapter competition at this year’s National Leadership & Skills Conference with their team of three: Degeeter, president; Samuel Jimenez, secretary; and Leo Kahlenberg, historian. They hope to carry the project forward and help other schools build calming rooms on their campuses.

The room was immediately used by the John F. Kennedy students and has received positive reviews from everyone who’s needed to use it. The project has also garnered a great deal of media attention, including coverage on ABC7 News in Los Angeles.

“After the pandemic, people were having a hard time,” shares SkillsUSA advisor Aaron Kahlenberg. “These thoughtful young people had the drive, skill, and ability to create something desperately needed by their peers.”

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