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Dennis Earl pilots Comfort Corners for troubled students
Comfort Corner 2
Dennis Earl Elementary School fifth grader Brisa Aevndano takes a moment to self-regulate by reading a book in her classrooms Comfort Corner. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

While the words “go to the corner” are oftentimes the precursor to a form of punishment for rebellious students acting up in the classroom, going to the corner at Dennis Earl Elementary School holds an entirely different meaning.

Last year, the elementary school campus made the decision to implement “Comfort Corners” in every classroom, which are secluded areas filled with beanbags, books and stress-relieving devices that help students self-regulate in a moment of emotional distress.

“I believe that by offering the Comfort Corner we are acknowledging and normalizing the fact that everyone sometimes just needs a few minutes to reset or gather their emotions, and that’s ok,” said Principal Laura Fong. “Students are offered a safe, comfortable, quiet space in which to do so with permission and dignity.”

Each classroom has a Comfort Corner option for students, and students can go to the corner when needed to read a book, play with a stress ball or simply just sit in the chair to relax and reset. Fong said that although there is a time limit, a student can always negotiate for more time with the teacher if needed.

Fong said that she saw the benefits of the Comfort Corner firsthand a few weeks ago when she noticed a student who began to silently cry at his desk. Before he drew any attention to himself, however, Fong watched as the student got up, walked over to the classroom Comfort Corner, turned over the two minute egg timer and sat in the bean bag chair.

“A few minutes later, he got up and returned to his desk and resumed working on his assignment,” said Fong. “He was no longer crying and appeared to be feeling better. None of the other students or the teacher made any comments to him about accessing the Comfort Corner. It has become part of their classroom culture to use it when you need it.”

Fong said that the Comfort Corner concept was introduced to Dennis Earl by Nancy Dailey from Jessica’s House, a grief support center for children and families that provides services to the school campus. Shortly after Dailey visited the elementary school campus and showed teachers a sample Comfort Corner, Fong said that the school purchased bean bag chairs for every classroom.

In addition to the “Comfort Corners in every classroom, the school also has an entire room filled with beanbags, behavioral books and artfully decorated walls called the “Clubhouse” for students from Jessica’s House, as well as the Tree House Club, which is a program for students who have experienced a loss in their family, such as divorce, separation, foster children or single parent homes, and social skills programs, including Greatness Groups. These groups, which include approximately 75 students altogether, meet once a week with trained facilitators for eight-week group sessions.

“As part of TUSD Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, the District is in the process of developing partnerships with organizations to provide supports for students,” said Director of Student Services Gil Ogden. “Comfort Corner is an example of a non-punitive intervention that helps students learn how to self-regulate their behavior. This is a crucial social-emotional behavior for young children to acquire and fundamental to future social and academic growth.

“We are thankful for our partnership with Jessica’s House and the School Chaplain program for bringing this innovative program to our District,” continued Ogden.

One student who visits the Clubhouse once a week on Friday is sixth grader Jesse Castillo, who is part of the group for Jessica’s House.

“I use it so I can relax sometimes to get away from hard work and take a break from what’s going on. I get to have fun and talk about the kind of day I’m having,” said Castillo. “I think it’s important because Jessica’s House helps when parents or family members die. They help you forget what happened and deal with it.”

Fong said that since bringing Comfort Corners and The Clubhouse to Dennis Earl, she has seen immense benefits to students who are struggling with trauma, loss, death, divorce and other outside factors.

“In order to teach students, we need to meet them where they are and provide them with the necessary support to ensure their success,” said Fong. “Sometimes these supports are academic in nature and sometimes these supports are social emotional.

“Children thrive in an environment in which they feel cared about and when they are treated with kindness, compassion and respect. In considering the needs of the whole child when educating them we can create a better future for the child as well as the community,” continued Fong.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering at Jessica’s House or the School Chaplain Program is encouraged to contact Student Services at 667-0887.