[November 2017] Support staff implements ‘Zen Den,’ fostering mindfulness

Ben Pearl ’18

Feeling stressed? Swamped with work? Need a quick break from the non-stop grind of school? Enter the Zen Den.

In the past, if students wanted to escape the dread of their school work, they might opt for a visit to the cafeteria, the library or the crevices in the stairwells. However, while these locations might provide a temporary escape from a classroom setting, none of them stimulate mindfulness or promote emotional awareness.

Now, students have a new way to unwind: the Zen Den, a technology-free room located within the nurse’s office. While the guidance suite is compatible for dealing with emotional and anxiety discomfort, the Zen Den was specifically crafted for the entire scope of the Staples community. No reservations are necessary and students and staff are encouraged to stop by anytime they may be in need of a quick cool down.

School psychologists and social workers collaboratively worked to make the Zen Den a reality. Their work was made possible as a result of a grant from the PTA. The Zen Den’s objective is to “provide a calm, mindful space for students and staff to take a break from the rush of daily life,” social worker Katie Mahoney said. The den accomplishes this through its restriction of technology. Additionally, it houses many hands-on and mind activities such as puzzles, coloring and yoga.

Additionally, this space was designed to foster interaction and connection between students, teachers, counselors, psychologists and social workers. In their proposal, the creators of the Zen Den had the goal of “[increasing] the visibility of the school support staff […] and [decreasing] the stigma sometimes associated with accessing emotional support.”

Carla Eichler, a Staples art teacher, has taken advantage of the new opportunity. “You can come in, you can sit, you can have a cup of tea, you can play with some Play-Doh and then you can go on your way,” Eichler said.

With a “soft-opening,” as Eichler described it, the Zen Den’s popularity across the school has spread. Mahoney reported there have been “over 100 visits from students and staff in the first few weeks.”