Principal Julissa Jimenez in one of the vibrating massage chairs.
Just in time to help soften holiday stress in the classroom, Marvine Elementary School in Bethlehem and St. Luke’s University Health Network held a ribbon cutting for the school’s new “Mustang Mindfulness Room,” a stress-management haven in the school for teachers and staff.
The “Mustang Mindfulness Room” is a repurposed conference room on the school’s second floor outfitted with three vibrating massage chairs, a beanbag chair, self-help books and other resources where users can take a few minutes to “chill” during a stressful part of the day. (The Mustang is the school’s mascot.)
Calming nature videos will be projected on the wall; soft, relaxing music will play; a screened-off lactation corner will give new mothers a private place to pump; subdued wall colors and small stone water fountain will promote destressing and regaining the energy and focus needed during a busy school day.
“St. Luke’s proudly donated the $7, 000 funding to the school to outfit the room, and provide additional student support, as part of the Network’s 150th anniversary celebration of serving the community’s health needs,” said Rosemarie Lister, St. Luke’s Senior Network Director of Community Health. A total of $150,000 in special one-time grants to partner schools and nonprofits working to make a positive impact in the community has been allocated network-wide.
According to Marvine’s first-year principal Julissa Jimenez, herself a teacher for decades, “I know the stress of being a teacher and the social, personal and economic issues our kids bring to school, which must be addressed before learning takes place. The stress level is elevated from Halloween through the Christmas holidays.
“Our teachers and staff run on empty at times. I tell them, ‘You need to do self-care in order to be able to help your students, even for a few minutes a day.’ It’s a perfect way to model what we’re telling our students to do when they feel overwhelmed.”
Third-grade teacher Shannon Miller finds relief sitting in a massage chair for a few minutes when her chronically painful back is aching.
“It’s magic!” she says, pleased with the good vibrations she experiences in the chair.
Marvine Elementary provides education from Pre-K to fifth grades and employs a total of 60 teachers and staff. Each classroom has a “calming space” for students can take a few minutes to relax and self-regulate during a tense time, Jimenez adds. A sensory room for students who need to take a voluntary “time out” from the classroom is also being planned.
A 20-year veteran educator, Jimenez and a group of teachers and administrators, and Luis Vasquez, St. Luke’s Community School Coordinator at Marvine, hatched the idea for the Mustang Mindfulness Room. They modeled it, in part, after other schools’ facilities to address their staff’s mental and emotional health needs.
According to Lister, “Mental health care is one of the most critical, often-neglected needs we find in the Community Health Needs Assessment conducted throughout our Network, along with food security,” she said. “The school’s Mustang Mindfulness Room is a perfect way for St. Luke’s to help staff and teachers recharge for a few minutes when they’re tired or stressed.”
Across the Lehigh River at Donegan School on Bethlehem’s South Side, its “culture team” is planning “Zen Zones” to give stress management opportunities to students with anxiety, ADD and other behavioral issues. St. Luke’s will finance these resources, which will be installed early next year to celebrate its longstanding partnerships with the Bethlehem Area School District.
At Fountain Hill Elementary School, close to the Network’s original hospital, St. Luke’s Bethlehem, St. Luke’s funding will help create a food pantry and promote literacy, much-needed services for that community.
A St. Luke’s grant will also support the creation of a mindfulness space at the Boys & Girls Club of Bethlehem, which serves many of the students from Marvine, Donegan and Fountain Hill schools.
“The pandemic might be ending, but we’re still treating the wounds and other side-effects it caused,” said Jimenez. “We are so grateful to St. Luke’s for their continued partnership and investment in our schools and community.”