In order to support a culture of mental well-being, Isanti Middle School is grateful for its partnership with Allina Health in implementing a “Change to Chill” program this school year.

During the Cambridge-Isanti School Board meeting Oct. 22, Isanti Middle School Principal Randy Pauly explained while Cambridge-Isanti High School was one of the first “Change to Chill” schools when the program was launched in the fall of 2018, both Isanti Middle School and Cambridge Middle School were added to the “Change to Chill” schools beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Change to Chill, Allina Health’s teen mental well-being program, is a partnership with a select group of area middle and high schools that fosters schoolwide efforts toward creating and nurturing a culture of mental well-being among students and staff in both virtual and in-person settings.

First launched during the 2018-2019 school year, Change to Chill provides selected schools with yearlong support from Allina Health, centered around student leadership, stress management and mental health training sessions for school staff, outreach and engagement with guardians, and a $1,000 grant to put toward creating a “Chill Zone” – a space created to help students de-stress and relax before returning to class.

This year, the focus of the school partnership is expanding to meet the unique needs of schools in their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Change to Chill staff are working with students to create new, tailored content, and utilize its online platform to support distance learning through videos, worksheets, audio meditations and more while also supporting students and teachers to incorporate different stress management elements into classroom learning.

“This really is not just an Isanti Middle School endeavor, this is something that we are doing across the middle level for Cambridge-Isanti Schools,” Pauly said. “Everything that I’ll be talking about tonight with Change to Chill, Mr. Gerlach and his staff and students over at Cambridge Middle School are also on board with that this year as well.”

Pauly said building community has been a goal for Isanti Middle School the past several years.

“This year we are really looking at doing some things intentionally to strengthen that community,” Pauly said.

Pauly shared some statistics from the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey that involved eighth graders from Cambridge-Isanti Schools.

“This kind of talks to our why,” Pauly said. “Why are we looking at strengthening our community? Just even the bottom bullet there: In the past two weeks, students were asked, how often have you been bothered by not being able to stop or control your worrying? The number of students that choose on more than half the days or nearly every day, nearly one-third of our female eighth-graders a year ago responded that that was them.

“So these statistics are concerning and they’re concerning for a couple additional reasons,” Pauly said. “The first is, most importantly, these percentages pretty much increase, or go higher, in all cases as students get older. When those students get into ninth grade and especially 11th grade, the concerning trend gets even higher. And that’s something that we’ve seen over the last several years across the state of Minnesota. So that’s something to be thinking about. And the other part of this is that this is all before COVID. These statistics were from a year and half ago. That was before COVID hit, before the pandemic, before our world has changed over these last seven months. I would put forth that there is no better time than now to really intentionally work on strengthening our community, and we’re looking at doing that with Change to Chill and really promoting the mental well-being in our schools.

“The three primary pieces to Change to Chill is helping students, not just telling them, helping to understand and identify what stress is, what are the causes of stress, what are the causes of stress in their own lives, and once they started down that path, really identifying how they can manage it. There’s a lot of things that we do and we try to do to help students, but really Change to Chill is focused on helping them, help themselves and giving them the tools to do that and manage that on their own,” Pauly added.

Pauly played two videos from seventh graders Lizzy Rosa and Shelby Bergman, who have been designated Chill Champions.

“I chose to be a Chill Champion because I thought it would be a fun opportunity for me and to help my school, my fellow classmates, with some stress they might be receiving over corona and stuff,” Rosa said. “I got a lot of stuff out of it, I learned a lot of stuff, like how to manage stress and anxiety.”

Pauly said both Rosa and Bergman are doing a great job as Chill Champions and went through a training together this past summer with other students hosted by representatives with Allina Health’s Change to Chill program.

“I joined Change to Chill because I wanted to help other teens with their mental stress, especially during these times when we are going through a pandemic, because I personally used to have a hard time with school and all the changes that were happening in the world,” Bergman said. “I thought bringing Change to Chill into our school would be a big help. So Lizzy (Rosa) and I are currently working with Mrs. (Terri) Emmons. This has been a great experience for us and I am very grateful that I’ve been able to help.”

Pauly said due to the pandemic, hybrid learning and social distancing, the school isn’t able to construct its Chill Zone at the moment, but it’s something it will try to do in the future. A Chill Zone creates an area for anyone at the school to take a moment to practice mindfulness, self-awareness, connection and relaxation.

In the meantime, Pauly explained Allina Health has created a virtual Chill Zone through the Change to Chill website. He also mentioned this summer Isanti Middle School counselor Terri Emmons created a virtual calming room for students.

“As you probably know, so many of our students are experiencing higher levels of stress than typical, and typically it’s been pretty high for middle school, so we’re doing everything we can to connect with them, both in person when they’re in school, but also trying to connect with them virtually,” Emmons said. “The virtual calming room was something that I created last spring, and many of our schools also have one. It’s one tool students can use when not in school to help them learn some resiliency skills and some coping strategies.

“Another thing we do at Isanti Middle School is I have small groups and we talk a lot about stress management. There are wonderful, calming apps that are free that kids can use on their phones. We do a lot of talking about coping strategies and helping them know how to access those because, as you know, they’re not with us all the time and sometimes it’s really important they have those tools right at their fingertips.”

Emmons said Change to Chill is also trying to connect with parents.

“It’s not just our kids that are experiencing higher levels of stress, but it’s our families also. I’m committed to looking at more ways that we can connect with families and help them with resources as they’re managing some new realities in our world,” Emmons said.

Pauly noted Oct. 5-9, the school held Chill Week. Structured to resemble a traditional homecoming week, Chill Week focused on a daily theme decided by this summer’s Chill Champion student interns to engage students in thinking about and practicing self-care through Change to Chill. This year, the school changed things up to accommodate different school schedules, where students could participate in-person or through distance learning.

Emmons gave much thanks to Allina Health for the Change to Chill partnership.

“Allina has just been fantastic,” Emmons said. “All of the things that we sent you school board members come to us free of charge and they offer us things from stress balls, to different reminders about mindful meditation, to other kinds of prizes that we are able to do drawings and give to kids so we hope to use those kind of merchandise items throughout the year and the kids have been really responsive to them. They’ve asked when we’ve run out if we can get more merchandise, and again, all free, based on our partnership with Allina, so I’m really grateful.”

Board Member Lynn Wedlund thanked Pauly for the Change to Chill efforts.

“I’m so glad that you’ve done this,” Wedlund said. “It’s wonderful to have partnerships with local businesses and the medical communities. I think it really makes our kids and our parents and our teachers and our staff and all of us stronger people.”

Superintendent Nate Rudolph thanked the leadership team at Isanti Middle School.

“We really appreciate your leadership and Terri’s leadership and just being there with kids,” Rudolph said. “These partnerships are important and we know that the research is clear, especially at the middle level when we can support our students, especially through adolescent times with their social, emotional health, that they will learn better and be stronger.”

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