The Shelton School has implemented a school-wide Wellness Initiative, made possible by a grant from the Moody Foundation.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health came to the forefront as students dealt with anxiety, depression and separation disorders. Children with learning differences, such as language learning differences, attention difficulties and sensory-motor challenges have always been at risk for stress and anxiety. The pandemic has made things exponentially harder for our most vulnerable children. They worry about themselves, their families and friends getting sick, as well as the economic crisis that many families have faced during this time.
The Shelton Wellness Initiative is a specialized intervention program for students, with the possibility of adding Shelton parents, teachers and staff in the future. The program, which currently targets EC-12th graders, is designed to educate, alleviate and combat the effects of stress on a physical, mental, emotional, psychological and behavioral level. Students discover how to control their emotional reaction to stress, in real time, by learning how to recognize the presence of stress in their body and how to implement specialized relaxation strategies to calm down.
Shelton is partnering with experts in the community, including Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, Chief of the Division of Mood Disorders and the founding director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and Rusty Lozano, M.ED LPC BCB, founder and director of the Center for Biofeedback and Behavior Therapy, LLC. Rusty is the program director of Shelton’s Wellness Initiative and Evan Hampton is the program manager.
The program has currently launched the “Coping Skills Training” phase, which has two parts: Black Box Skits and Lab Training. Black Box Skits are unique group seminars that are designed to introduce different concepts of stress and stress control. Atmospheric lights, therapy animals, audience participation and other special effects (such as electronic dance music, puppets and props) create a visually and auditory appealing show.
“The kids are having a blast,” Lozano says. “The shows are very cutting edge and interactive. We’ve created an ambience where the children are learning through audience participation and examples demonstrated through their peers, which make the lessons memorable and very entertaining.”
Lab Training is designed to train relaxation techniques using technology. The students are assigned a laptop and a heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitor is a pulsometer sensor that gently clips onto the student’s ear lobe and can detect stress via heart rate. The heart rate program (emwave.com) interface is user friendly and easy to use. The program color-codes various stress states in the body. Red means stress, blue means relaxed, green means very relaxed.
“The feedback is immediate and clear,” Lozano says. “If a student utilizes a relaxation strategy and relaxation is achieved, their efforts are immediately reinforced by a bright color-coded LED on the heart monitor unit followed by an indicator chime from their laptop and color-coded box display on their computer screen. The performance results are communicated to the user loud and clear.”
The students are introduced to breathing and body strategies designed to promote relaxation. “Mindfulness concepts are then tied in to help students recognize the various sensations in the body associated with stress,” he says.
This spring, third-fifth grade students will participate in the “Horses and Humans” equine assisted therapy program on campus. Students will interact with horses and develop essential skills, such as an appreciation of nature, situational awareness, concentration, balance, motor-skill enhancement, verbal and non-verbal communication, empathy, relaxation, core strength, teamwork, self-esteem, confidence and leadership.
Another part of the wellness initiative involves Upper School students. Upper School students are participating in UT Southwestern’s Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM), which is an evidenced-based program delivered by certified facilitators in the classroom setting. It is a five-hour interactive mental health promotion program delivered over three to five weeks, designed to encourage increased discussion and knowledge about mental health, the development of problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence.
The Moody Foundation's funding ensures that Shelton can provide our students with the resources they need to help them navigate this difficult time in our society. The Moody Foundation's philanthropic commitment to mental health is inspiring and Shelton is grateful for their support.
The Shelton Wellness Initiative was created and developed using proven and accepted treatment modalities in accordance with the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Counseling Association (ACA).
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