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Smoky Hill HS students find lunchtime connections, life skills in Zen Den

SHHS studentsWhen the bell rings for lunch at Smoky Hill High School, some students don’t head to the cafeteria, but to a newly-created Zen Den to meet new friends and learn skills to promote their mental health.

Thanks to a wellness grant from the district, the mental health team at Smoky Hill was able to decorate a room in the school to make it more calming and inviting for students and developed several opportunities for students to grow. While the Zen Dens serve multiple groups in the building, lunchtime has been an opportunity to try something new for the 2022-23 school year.

On Mondays, students are invited to come to the Zen Den if they need a quiet place to eat lunch. Hosted by school social worker Jennifer Harding, this has been beneficial for students who might feel overwhelmed by the noise and crowds and lunch or are looking for new friends to connect with.

“We saw a lot of students choosing to eat in the lobby area where our mental health offices are,” Wiering said. “We realized we needed a way to support students with a safe space that could also help them build relationships.”

Tuesdays in the Zen Den are soup-er with “Good Soup,” a chance for students to have a bowl of soup and learn stress management skills with Morgan Watts, Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist.

“These groups allow students to make new friends, find a trusted adult and learn ways to make smarter choices,” Watts said. “We see a very eclectic group of students in our honors classes alongside students who typically skip class or have been suspended. It’s so important for these kids to connect with each other because they might be struggling with similar issues.”

SHHS studentsLife Hack Lunchtime on Wednesdays in the Zen Den is led by Trevor Spieker, who works for Aurora Mental Health Center and also supports students at Smoky Hill. Spieker leads a group to share ‘life hacks’ for students’ mental health, providing ways to help them find the balance, esteem and grounding needed to thrive in school and beyond. Fellow Aurora Mental Health Center therapist Liz Healy also works at Smoky Hill and hosts a Thursday art therapy group at lunch. 

The mental health team at Smoky Hill hopes to find more ways to decorate and create a unique space for students who need additional support. Watts shared that one hope is to add a guided meditation or mindfulness group that would help students find time in their day to reset and return to class refreshed and ready to learn. 

“At the end of the day, it’s all about building organic and supportive relationships,” Watts shared. “If students feel safe to connect with their peers and adults, it’s going to give them the confidence and tools to be their best selves.”


Posted 1/19/23.