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'Mindful Room': A safe space to reset for Fruita's young learners

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Opened to Shelledy Elementary students in fall 2021, the Mindful Room is proving to be effective.

FRUITA, Colo. — As the state deals with a youth mental health state of emergency, a room filled with what appears to be toys and games in a Fruita elementary school could provide a path for mental well-being for students. At Shelledy Elementary School, the "Mindful Room" is already proving it can make a significant difference in a child's life. 

“I think Kolton knows he can be his genuine self here,” said Jessica Sorenson, mother of seven-year-old Kolton, a first-grader who has autism. “It allows him to kind of take a pause and a break and refocus. And the tools that are in offered in this environment help him get there in his own way."

Located just down the hall of the main entrance, this recently converted teaching room is offering students and staff something they didn’t have before — a dedicated place to escape and reset moods when they're impacting learning.

The Mindful Room

How toys are being used as tools in a dedicated behavioral care environment.

Commonly mistaken for toys, there is a wide range of “tools” found in the Mindful Room including pipe cleaners, Legos, books and balance rocks. This array of materials and activities can engage a number of senses and address several behavioral health needs. Not to be mistaken for a playroom, this space is run by the school's behavioral interventionist, Janielle Westermire. 

“I wanted a place where it would hit for all children through the senses,” she told Rocky Mountain PBS. “Whether it’s audio, visual, sensory. No matter what background, no matter the situation, they have something that’s just for them.”

Any student who is dealing with frustration, sadness or a wandering mind can ask to be excused from class and go to the Mindful Room. A system that is much different than the way the previous behavioral interventionist used to address students' needs by going room to room.  

“With the school [and] the way it’s set up and the timeframes that kids sometimes need, it was hard taking care of all of them,” Westermire explained.

Once at the Mindful Room, Westermire works with students individually to recharge their receptive state of mind, setting clear goals and expectations for them along the way.

“The change from when students leave to go take a break in the Mindful Room compared to when they return to class is incredible,” said Shelledy Elementary teacher Sami Cotten. “When students return, they are calm enough to solve a problem if needed, return to their work, or continue on with their day.”

The idea for this type of space began to take form in May of 2021 with the help of a School District 51 Foundation grant of $5,059. Initially conceived by Principal Cami Kidd through a summer training program, Westermire then made the list of items needed to create the stress-free environment, including a recently announced UV tactile sensory board.

The room was first opened in the fall 2021 without set time limits given the varying amounts of care students need. 

For young Kolton, this room has made a drastic improvement on his life. He uses the balance rocks to expel some his seemingly endless amount of energy, along with a mobile tunnel and small sand kit.

Kolton was formally diagnosed with autism at the age of three. With his father active in the armed forces, the family moved often and was forced to reestablish care each time. 

“There was not consistency with the individuals or the therapists, it was a different person every week, sometimes every session during that week,” said Sorenson. “It was like having to reestablish that baseline with that individual for Kolton. And for Kolton, change is hard.”

Through this room and the now consistent and strong relationship with Westermire, Kolton's family calls the growth he's made in the last year "remarkable." 

“Not only academically but personality, and he's been able to develop through how to use his emotions correctly and react correctly. And his frustration levels have diminished. And his capabilities of verbalizing what he is feeling has immensely grown over the last year,” said Sorenson. “I think Ms. W. and this room has a lot to do with that growth, truly.”

Matt Thornton is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. He is based in Grand Junction. You can contact him at

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