South Bronx School Has Unique Way to Deal with Emotionally Distressed Students

squishy ballHaven Academy school supply List:
1.    Pencils
2.    Paper
3.    Squishy

Squishy? What’s a squishy? A squishy is a “colorful rubber ball with dozens of tentacles that can withstand the strength of any young student.”

Umm okay, but why is it important? Students at Haven Academy use the squishy as a way to overcome their fears and calm their tears.

Maybe a little background information is necessary to explain the wonder of the squishy.

Haven Academy is a South Bronx charter school that was founded in 2008 by New York Foundling, a foster care agency in New York. Haven was the first school in New York to serve children who do not have a stable family or home life. In fact, two-thirds of the children who attend Haven Academy are either in foster care or under the protection of the Administration for Children’s Services. Many of these children have been abused or abandoned and suffer from emotional distress.

Let’s see how the squishy fits into all of this. Marquis is a six-year-old boy who attends Haven Academy. One day, he crawled under a table in his classroom and started having a temper tantrum because he was so frustrated with the class reading assignment. The school’s social worker, Gabriella Cassandra, carried Marquis to the principal’s office. Once there, Marquis was handed three squishies. Marquis began playing with the squishies, and eventually was able to calm down enough to discuss what was bothering him.

Like many of the students at Haven, Marquis finds comfort in these squishy rubber balls, even when he can’t find comfort in his home life. Marquis was abandoned by his mother when he was a new-born and is being raised by his uncle. Obviously this has placed much emotional distress on Marquis, and as a result, he is very far behind his peers in social and academic development.

“It’s OK to be upset, but you have to use your words,” Ms. Wynder, the behavior specialist, said the morning of the chair-throwing. “Your uncle is not going to be happy to hear about this today. He likes to know when you have a really good day, and this is not one of those.”

After being reminded of this, Marquis started writing an apology note to his teacher, all the while keeping one hand on the squishy.

“Because they present so many behavioral issues, these kids have kind of fallen through the black hole in public schools in big city areas, and they need an awful lot of things,” said Bill Baccaglini, the executive director of the New York Foundling. “You want to talk about academic success, but my kids don’t show up ready for the three R’s. There’s no amount of math that a kid can be ready for if you saw your mother beaten, if you were beaten or if you are constantly dealing with turmoil.”

Students at Haven Academy have a lot to deal with in their young lives. But, having a squishy can make their days a bit brighter. The squishy represents security – something they can always cling to when times get rough.

Via The New York Times

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