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On this blog, we share regular updates about the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners partnership between Extension's Children, Youth & Family Consortium and Bruce Vento Elementary School.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Partnership Builds a Better Space

By Judy Myers, Sara Langworthy, and Nora Fox

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about how thankful we are for our partners.

Thanks to the incredible work and dedication of over 55 active partners and the generous funds provided by the Extension Issue Area Grant, CYFC is partnering to create innovative learning spaces for children at Bruce Vento Elementary School in East Saint Paul. Through reciprocal relationships, this project is capitalizing on the strengths of school staff, community leaders, as well as University of Minnesota faculty, staff and students to enhance the opportunities for students at the school. You can read about our progress across all areas of the project in our brief report: Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners: Growing Environments to Foster Learning and Academic Success (PDF).

But today, we wanted to share with you the incredible power of partnership that has led to the design of a calming room space for the students of Bruce Vento Elementary School.

UMN College of Design Students preparing and presenting their designs for Bruce Vento Calming Room

What is a calming room?

Calming rooms are used as safe places for students to practice skills aimed at regulating their behaviors and emotions when they are having difficulty in the classroom. Calming rooms offer a therapeutic space full of soft surfaces, gentle music, and cozy spaces for students to use their five senses to help soothe emotional outbursts and develop regulation and coping skills. Research suggests these spaces contribute to fewer numbers of behavioral outbursts requiring lengthy removal from the classrooms and the use of other harsh disciplinary measures.1

How was it designed?

In an effort to create a therapeutic design that most effectively utilizes an existing space at Bruce Vento, the project team partnered with the UMN College of Design. Under the instruction of Professor Abi Asojo, 23 students in their sophomore year worked collaboratively to propose designs for a calming room space that reflected the school’s needs, project budget, and structural bounds of the room. This was an exciting partnership opportunity between University undergraduate students and Bruce Vento Elementary School staff to create a calming room space to meet the needs of students at the school.

Throughout a series of discussions, students and Bruce Vento staff proposed the following ideas and modifications for the space:

  • Adjusting the current lighting to include dimming features 
  • Dropping the ceiling or adding texture to the ceilings, such as secured curtains or other soft and light-colored draping, to mimic the sky 
  • Adding furniture or a therapeutic swing that could be secured to the floor or hung from the ceiling to provide additional seating and individualized space 
  • Incorporating storage areas, such as cabinets, to the walls to provide a place for sensory items, such as weighted blankets or soft toys, to be kept
  • Using calming or nature-themed color tones for murals on the walls 

On February 11th, the University students presented their final designs which were creatively responsive to Bruce Vento’s needs, while completely transforming the space into a calming oasis. The calming room team is currently working to incorporate the expertise of the behavioral staff at Bruce Vento to decide on the final design. We anticipate beginning construction of the calming room in the coming months.

Why we’re thankful

Without the involvement of our incredibly generous and dedicated partners, this effort would not be possible. We extend our sincere thanks to the wonderful students in the College of Design for giving their time and talents to benefit the children at Bruce Vento Elementary School, and for all of the project partners who have shared their valuable expertise on the development of this project. It is both humbling to think about how far we have come in such a short time and exciting to think of how far we can go together to achieve great things for the children and families of Bruce Vento Elementary School.


Moore KM. The Sensory Connection. 2010. Available at:


Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Learners is an ongoing partnership between the Extension Children, Youth, and Family Consortium and the Bruce Vento Elementary School. Together, along with many other partners, we are developing engaging learning environments that promote student learning and wellness.

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