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New 'Calm Corners' help East TN kids focus, manage emotions

Beanbag chairs, blankets and posters can go a long way when it comes to keeping students out of trouble.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Fewer Knox County elementary school students are being sent to the office after a handful of schools installed calm corners in their classrooms.

Calm corners feature a bean bag chair, pillows, weighted blankets, essential oils and fidget toys.

Students are sent there to calm down, get a hold of their feelings, and face issues in the classroom rationally.

Teachers say the changes are remarkable.

Calm corners are used by teachers nationwide, but the movement in Knoxville started with Belle Morris Elementary School 5th grade science and math teacher Caitlin Hatfield.

"We had a lot of office referrals, it was close to like 900," she said.

That's when Hatfield realized punishing kids wasn't working.

"We knew we had to do something differently," she said.

Hatfield applied for a TeacherPreneur grant through the Great Schools Partnership to install a calming corner where kids could come chill out before they act out.

"Like if you feel like you can't be near the person or you'll like get mad or say something you think you'll regret, then I'll come in here," said 4th grader Ryleigh Mynatt.

She said Belle Morris' calm corner helps her focus in class, and because of it, she made the honor roll.

"Kids that came here consistently, we saw a little over 90% of them that they would come here and they made it the rest of the day without getting into any other trouble," said Hatfield.

That success sparked the interest of about half a dozen other elementary schools in Knox County, including Green Magnet Academy.

"Oh my gosh, we are going to change the climate at Green Magnet," said special education teacher Tina Huff.

She applied for a TeacherPreneur grant through the Great Schools Partnership to put a calm corner in every classroom at the school.

In October, she was awarded $5,000 to do so, and most of the calm corners were set up last week.

"A beanbag type chair, pillows, we tell kids to push on the wall, breathing exercises," said Huff.

In just a week those corners got a lot of visitors.

"We've had a total of 74 so far," said Huff.

The calm corners are already a hit with students.

"It helps me to calm myself down when I'm mad at somebody or about something," said 4th grader Jerkiez Smith.

"I haven't gotten in trouble no more," said 4th grader Aundreas Dokes.

To the kids, it's a new fun tool.

To the teachers, it's the fix they've been waiting for.

"When you see that there's proof in the pudding so to speak and you see there's less cause, that's when you know something is working and it's very exciting," said Huff.

All calm corners are different and personalized by the teachers. Some have essential oils, some have activity charts, but they all have beanbag chairs, weighted blankets and fidget toys.

Green Magnet is still waiting for all its supplies, but is excited to see more kids learn to regulate their emotions.

Norwood Elementary, Copper Ridge Elementary, Mt. Olive Elementary, Pond Gap Elementary and Dogwood Elementary also received TeacherPreneur grants through the Great Schools Partnership this past October to create their own versions of calm corners.