When students have an episode in the classroom and become dysregulated, they need someplace to go — at least, that's how staff at Sunset Elementary are approaching such situations now.

In an effort to become a more trauma-responsive school, this year Newton's Sunset Elementary has implemented a "Peace Place" for students to visit when they are experiencing difficult, dysregulating episodes. According to Peace Place facilitator Becky Kindy, the goal of the space is to help build positive relationships while also facilitating an opportunity for students to regulate their brains after such episodes.

"You're emphasizing the relationship you have with the students and building relationships with the students," Kindy said of the trauma-responsive approach. "Peace Place fits in there because kids are coming and there's a consistent adult in Peace Place, so it works for the building of relationships. Also, the brain — when it's experienced trauma — develops in a different way than a normal, untraumatized brain and some of those are sensory kinds of needs ... so our whole goal is to help students stay regulated so that they can learn."

Some of those sensory items available in the Peace Place classroom to help with regulation include rocking chairs, coloring supplies, Legos, kinetic sand, a trampoline and more. The classroom can be utilized by students who are referred, who have scheduled breaks through Student of Concern plans (in order to prevent negative behaviors) and it is also open before school and during lunch for those students who find the cafeteria dysregulating.

For those students who are referred, Peace Place is a new alternative to office referrals (down 15 percent this year) intended to eliminate the stigma attached to a dysregulating episode. While Kindy noted that's not to say there aren't any consequences for students referred to Peace Place (i.e. for crawling under their desk during class), the simple option of having somewhere else to go has provided beneficial to students and staff.

"We thought it was important to have a calm room, or to have a Peace Place, in order to keep students regulated so that they can learn and also to respond to behaviors in a different way instead of just a consequence-based way. We're kind of trying to respond to it from a brain-based sort of approach," Kindy said. "Students don't necessarily feel like they're in trouble coming to Peace Place for being dysregulated, which helps to minimize major classroom disruptions."

That also benefits students by allowing more time for teachers to focus on on-task instruction, while Kindy said already this school year the existence of Peace Place has helped lead to fewer trips to the school nurse/social worker for behavioral difficulties, lessened stress on teachers and helped boost morale among staff.

In total, 69 students have made 1,459 visits to Peace Place so far this school year — with 62 percent of those visits being scheduled breaks.

Additionally, the mission of Peace Place is being implemented in the individual classrooms to help with the trauma-responsive approach — from morning mindfulness lessons to learn about the brain to the "Calm Corner" implemented in each classroom for regulatory exercises, acting as an intermediary step before students are referred to Peace Place.

"Peace Place has been a positive asset to Sunset and our school's culture. It is an integral part of our work to be a trauma-responsive school," Kindy said. "We are excited to see the impact Peace Place makes on our school's culture in the future."