STACY GOSS , USD 308
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Rusty’s room is a new safe space for students to re-center both physically and emotionally outside of their Hutch High classroom. Named after Rusty Hilst, a Hutchinson High school teacher and golf coach, the room sits in the classroom where he taught Math for 53 of his 54 years of teaching.
Located in C-hall, Rusty’s room hosts soft chairs, soft lighting, a therapy dog named Coco, fidget items, a bubble tube light zone, calming sounds, and other self-regulation opportunities. The calm room aims to lower tension. There is a ClearTouch screen to watch guided meditation and breathing videos. One chair in the room is a privacy chair with high sides and a cushioned seat.
Part of the self-regulation challenge is educating the educators on how and when to use the room. “Students who are dysregulated have different needs than those that are in need of a nurse or needing behavior modification. Sometimes a student just needs a break because they have become overwhelmed with life and they can’t focus on their school work for a bit. We are able to impact students within minutes by offering a calm environment to reset and return to class.” said Jan Young, one of the school social workers overseeing Rusty’s Room.
Students may request to visit Rusty’s room, but teacher or administrator approval is required. Maximum capacity is 3 students at any time in order to give each student ample space and privacy. All time in the room is supervised by a social worker or educational aide with the intent of a student returning to the learning environment as quickly as possible. Rusty’s room also hosts a small group of students for a recurring coping skills meeting and a group focusing on life skills for special education students.
“We know it works because we have seen these techniques put to use in the education environment in the past. We have simply created a space to use them. We all know that slow, regulated breathing is scientifically proven to lower your heart rate. You’ve probably used breathing practices in your life.” Tanya Martin-Nisly stated. Martin-Nisly is also a social worker at HHS. “If a student can drop in for a few minutes to reset then they may be less likely to skip class, or be confrontational with other students or staff. We just want the students to be able to focus on learning and you can’t learn if you’re dysregulated.” As usage of the room catches on, HHS staff hope to track how many minutes students spend in the room during the 2023-2024 school year and are looking for a correlation in attendance, absenteeism, or instances of behavior requiring disciplinary action.
“I’ll be honest, as a Hutch High grad, I can’t tell you enough how much a room like this would’ve helped! We are so lucky to be able to offer this room to our students,” Kurtis Ferguson, educational aide.