The district has received multiple questions regarding how mental health needs, which have dramatically increased since the start of the pandemic, are being addressed in the district. The Chill Project, presented by Allegheny Health Network, is one of the ways Canon-McMillan School District is addressing those needs.
Back in March 2022, Founder and Program Director of Allegheny Health Network’s Chill Project, Dr. Will Davies, presented The Chill Project proposal at the Canon-McMillan School District’s Board of School Directors meeting. He stated that it began back in 2019 as a pilot to improve school-based behavioral health services. The pilot began at Baldwin and Pleasant Hills High Schools. They are now in a number of different school districts. Canon-McMillan School District is the first district outside of Allegheny County to implement The Chill Project. Dr. Davies describes the Chill Program as a modern way to address school districts’ mental health needs.
According to Dr. Davies there was a huge mental health crisis before COVID-19 came about, and the pandemic elevated this problem. The Chill Project looks at the school district as a community that includes students, staff, faculty, administration, and parents/guardians. It does not simply address the needs of students who qualify for school based services based on their insurance. The Chill Project is described as a tiered approach. This means that there are different levels of licensed therapists provided by Allegheny Health Network, depending on the type of help the person needs. Tier 3 includes access to a psychiatrist, while Tier 2 includes access to a school-based mental health therapist.
The visually identifying aspect of The Chill Project is the Chill Room. The Chill Room is part of Tier 1 and looks vastly different from that of a typical classroom. It’s an interactive space with sensory items focused on emotion regulation. There’s various unique aspects to the Chill Room that Canon-McMillan created. It’s a quiet room with a faux grass area with large bean bags, individual house pods complete with a soft cushion to sit on, hanging plants, and color changing lights, a family room area with a faux fireplace or waterfall, a bench corner that could be used for small support groups or lessons. The room includes calming lighting, slight fragrances, and additional calming sensory items such as mandala coloring books, kinetic sand, etc. Students from CMHS also helped in the development of the room by helping to provide some special touches such as window panes constructed by the tech ed department and outdoor landscape murals created by the art department. The hope is for students and staff to feel comfortable with talking about their mental health in a space that helps ease any concerns on any given day.
The room is staffed by a Chill Room Facilitator as provided by AHN. The Chill Room also tracks analytics to determine why people come in, when the room is visited, and how they have improved by self-reporting their stress level upon entrance and exit of the room, as well as at the end of the day.
Another part of Tier I includes lessons on topics such as breathing, emotions, mindfulness, gratitude, and tolerance which is taught in Health classes by the Chill Room Facilitator. In addition, a plethora of PD is available to staff. This PD is currently being utilized not only for CMHS staff, but all of our staff K-12.
Since the Chill Project strives to be inclusive of the school community as a whole, it also includes lessons or meetings for sports teams that could be utilized if the coach sees a need or even before a high level tournament or competition to help the students ground their anxiety and get more prepared for the competition. Communication regarding the Chill Project in Canon-McMillan is pushed out monthly through the high school newsletter. The Chill Room Facilitator also puts out a monthly Chill newsletter for additional details. Students may opt out if they do not feel comfortable engaging in the Chill Project.
Click here for a video about the Chill Room made by CMHS student Sienna and teacher Mr. Maisner from Canon-McMillan High School or click through the photo album below to see the room!