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New ‘Zen Den’ for Orem schools with at-risk students

Dec 21, 2021, 12:18 PM | Updated: Dec 28, 2021, 5:30 am
Student drawing in the Zen Den. Photo: Linda McCoy...
Student drawing in the Zen Den. Photo: Linda McCoy

OREM, Utah — Two schools in American Fork will construct a wellness room called a “Zen Den” for students. The rooms will serve as a space for students to process their emotions.

KSL NewsRadio’s Lindsay Aerts reported on the effort that is underway.

Aerts spoke to the school’s wellness coordinator, Linda McCoy, about the project and the schools that are involved.

The participating high schools

McCoy explained that Polaris and Summit High Schools are in the same building. 

Polaris is an alternative school that serves students who are at risk of not graduating.

Summit is a program that works specifically with students who are in state custody, in foster care, or have guardians other than their parents. Summit also works with students who are “‘at risk’ for educational failure,” meaning they have not succeeded in other school programs.

The Zen Den project

McCoy described the Zen Den as a “safe haven;” a place where students can go for a quick reset if they are feeling anxious about a test, relationships, or worried about any area of their life.

McCoy, Polaris principal Kori Thomas, and school psychologist McKell Nelson, have been working on the project for roughly a year.

The trio modeled their schools’ wellness room on a Washington County School District effort. McCoy visited with the program’s coordinators in St. George last summer. She was trained in data collection so that the success of the Zen Den can be measured and tracked. 

The Washington County school wellness programs have already shown promising results in the data.

In addition to support from the Alpine School District, the project received funding from the Cook Center for Human Connection, a Utah-based mental health support organization. Decorations for the Zen Den were provided at cost from Osmond Designs.  

Zen Den decorated with furniture from Osmond Designs. Photo: Linda McCoy

How will it work?

When the Zen Den opens for students, there will be hall passes in every classroom. Students will be granted the agency to grab a hall pass at any point, without consulting their teachers. They will check in with McCoy, or another member of staff, about their mood both before and after entering the room.

Students will have ten minutes in the room and the option to grab a coping tool.

Instructions for time spent in the Zen Den; check in, pick a tool, get a timer, find a spot, clean up. Photo: Linda McCoy.

The mood check in before and after time spent in the Zen Den will serve as data for the Alpine District. 

McCoy hopes they can eventually expand this type of space to other schools, said Aerts. She expects the room will teach students new coping mechanisms and how to regulate their emotions. 


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