MEA members create wellness toolboxes for at-risk students  

EAST LANSING – At-risk students may be hardest hit by the disruption of schooling in the COVID-19 era, so an MEA unit of Kalamazoo behavior specialists has taken action to help them cope from a distance.

The 14 members of the Kalamazoo Behavior Specialists Association (KBSA) came up with the idea to create Wellness Toolboxes for their students to use at home. The group raised money, purchased items, and assembled 400 toolboxes for distribution.

Students will be allowed to keep the kits containing fidget spinners, blue light blocker glasses, putty, stress balls, Rubik’s cubes, pencil toppers, and more. An instruction card in each kit explains how to use the items and offers directions for other calming and focusing strategies.

Secondary students will also receive tri-fold display boards to use during live conference calls for blocking out distracting background activity or displaying positive quotes and affirmations.

“This is about providing familiarity for the students, because these are tools that we would have used with students in the classroom as well,” said Tia Whitley, KBSA president. “It’s bringing the classroom to the home.”

Kalamazoo Public Schools began the school year fully virtual, and the school board recently voted to continue remote learning through mid-March. The union members raised more than $3,500 for kits to be distributed in the coming days to K-12 students identified by each building’s behavior team.

Students who struggle to focus or have sensory issues can be helped by using materials or devices which satisfy a desire for movement and release excess energy, said Tiombe Bey-Woodson, a behavior specialist at Hillside Middle School and KBSA vice president.

“The fidgets and things like that give students who are easily distracted something to tangibly be touching and moving – so they have that sensory experience going – while they’re watching the teacher and learning,” Bey-Woodson said.

The toolkits will be a “fantastic help” to address student needs exacerbated by the health crisis, said Lisa Dewey, principal of Spring Valley Center for Exploration, a district magnet school.

“Finding ways to provide our students some comfort, finding ways to help them analyze their own emotions or to be able to get the wiggle out is going to be really helpful,” Dewey said.

The kits were dropped off last week to every building in KPS for delivery to students’ homes in the coming days.

Behavior specialists address the needs of the whole child by identifying and addressing issues that impede students’ success. The job often involves helping their caregivers access school and community resources to boost overall wellness in children and families.

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