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Independence Loft gives students a lift, helps them learn valuable life skills

Welcome to the Loft at Independence Elementary. It’s a refuge, a haven, a safe place for students when events or emotions spin out of control.

“Sometimes I’m mad if something happened at recess, so I come down here to calm down,” said third-grader Javier Jimenez. He’s one of dozens of Independence students who have found support and learned new skills by visiting the Loft.

School psychologist Lauren Bennett created the Loft last spring, after a specialized program in the space was moved to another school.

Zones of Regulation sign“Part of it is a regulation room, where students can come to take breaks and use regulation strategies to get back to the classroom and back to learning. But it’s also more than that,” Bennett said. “Kids join a small skills group where they learn a program called ‘The Zones of Regulation.’”

In that program, students learn to identify what zone they’re in emotionally. They also learn strategies to help them manage what they’re feeling in each zone.

“We’re teaching them those skills when they are regulated, so they can learn to apply them when they’re not feeling regulated, whether that’s in the Loft, in the classroom, on the playground, even outside of school,” Bennett said.
The Loft is staffed by a dedicated team of para-professionals, including Melissa Trujillo.

“I love this program,” she said. “This is a way for kids to de-escalate, to learn what zone they’re in and how to control their emotions. We teach kids that it’s OK to be in the red zone, but it’s not OK to hit, or scream or yell. And we teach them what they can do to control those emotions.”

“I love Ms. Melissa a lot,” said second-grader Madden Mellinger. “She helps me calm down.”

The tent room in the LoftTrujillo and the staff offer students different methods of de-escalation, from conversation and coloring to a tent where they can have some “alone time” and cuddle stuffed animals, to a so-called “crash pad.”

“They can fall forward, backward or to the side,” Trujillo said. “They can do it once or multiple times. Only one student is allowed at a time, or they can take turns.”

Independence Principal Lisa Morris said the Loft staff is amazing.

“They are working so hard to build connections with our students,” Morris said. “Students come down and they feel heard, they feel valued and that’s what really makes a difference.”

Teachers and parents alike say the Loft has made a huge difference at Independence.

“When they come back, they’re calmer. They enter the classroom ready to learn. They are keeping themselves safe,” said fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Crawford. “We now have a language. We talk about the zones. ‘What zone are you in?’ ‘How can we get back to the green zone?’”

“Green means that I’m happy,” Mellinger said.

“Parents have been very excited about this opportunity for their children to have a safe space to go to, to connect with an adult, have a break from the day,” Principal Morris said. “Parents have been very supportive and encouraging.”

“The benefit to the students is that they’re learning really valuable life skills,” Bennett said. “They’re learning how to manage their emotions, their behavior, their social skills. They’re learning time is maximized as well.”

“It has been amazing!” Principal Morris said. “This is one of the most impactful things we’ve done at Independence. It has made a significant difference for students. They’re more engaged in their classroom, they’re more focused. More importantly, they’re just happier and they’re more successful as well.”

That’s something Javier Jimenez can attest to after a visit to the Loft.

“I feel happy,” Jimenez said. “I feel ready to learn.”

Posted 3/8/2022.