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New program to provide students with emotional, social learning

By Jim Spezialetti


Allegheny Health Network will partner with Carlynton School District to bring the CHILL room program to Carnegie Elementary School this fall.

“This is an innovative project that will significantly increase our ability to meet all students social and emotional needs,” said Patricia Serdy, Carlynton school psychologist. “The program will also increase our ability to provide Tier I and Tier II services.”

Through Tier I, the program will provide all students with social and emotional learning through mindfulness curriculum. In Tier II, the staff will provide small groups that are skill-based and need-based. Serdy said individual counseling is offered through a full-time licensed therapist.

Carnegie Elementary second-grade teacher Donald Alexander said staff has been researching ways to address the students’ mental health and wellness needs.

“Over the last several years, we started to notice that there are things that our students needed that we, as regular education teachers, were having a difficult time providing,” Alexander said.

The Carnegie teacher heard a story on National Public Radio about the Allegheny Health Network’s CHILL project and its founder and manager Dr. William Davies. With a connection to Allegheny Health Network, Alexander was able to meet Davies and learn more about the program.

“I automatically fell in love with the potential it has to help our students,” Alexander said.

Davies said AHN is sponsoring the CHILL project in two other school districts, which has been very successful.

The CHILL room will be designed to be a calming space instead of a classroom setting.

Davies said the project is a prevention-based, mindfulness informed service. He said with traditional school-based therapy, a therapist would be in the building one or two days a week. With the CHILL program, a therapist will be at the school five days a week, all day long, Davies said.

In addition, an educator will be in the CHILL room to handle all of the preventative skill-base learning. All students are rotated through the CHILL room with a customized curriculum.

“The skills we teach are evidence based,” Davies said. “The skill-based learning helps reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression and can lead to an increase in the level of resiliency and overall increase of mindful awareness.”

The program also serves the teachers as well.

“We know that when teachers are not in a great space, they’re stressed out and they are not as effective with the kids. And that is a real concern across the country,” Davies said.

“We’re there for professional development and also to help the teachers learn about the skills we’re teaching the students,” he said.

Carlynton superintendent John Kreider said the CHILL room is only for Carnegie Elementary students at this time.

The cost of the program is $65,000. Kreider said he anticipates federal funding will be used to cover the cost. The district received $458,000 through the federal CARES Act to be used for any covid-19-related expenses and potential projects, like the CHILL room.

The district is also seeking grants to cover $20,000 in capital improvements for the room, Kreider said.


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