BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Before the school year abruptly went virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic, Crosspointe Elementary School in Boynton Beach had a unique place for students who needed a break from their day.
Earlier this year, WPTV visited the school's play therapy room. It's a place of solace for students who need a little break from their day.
Inside, the toys are more than toys. They help calm fears, solve problems, and release emotions.
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Licensed mental health counselor Dr. Mindy Parsons volunteers her time in the room that she created from the ground up.
"I think everybody looks for that niche where they can give back, and sometimes it's hard to find and this was perfect," Parsons said.
Parsons saw a post on the NextDoor app from the school staff that said, "if I had a fairy godmother we would have a play therapy room," and she said it spoke directly to her.
Parsons calls the room a labor of love with a $7,000 price tag. Some of that money was raised from a GoFundMe account and other services were donated as well.
Parsons enlisted her friend and interior designer, Jennifer Mirch, to help put the room together.
"We really have to create separation of space in here," Mirch said. "Just seeing these kids come in here and knowing that they're going to have an avenue to express their feelings and emotions, whether it be good or bad, we all need an avenue. We all need something to express ourselves and tell our story in a way that is going to work and be understood and really to just help these kids get beyond what they are going through. It's just a simple thing we all deserve."
The room was completed in December 2019.
The school has a focus on social and emotional learning. When Parsons answered the call to create the play therapy room, it was a dream come true for the staff.
"We all should have access to these things just like we all need access to basic health care," school counselor Wenda Oscar said. "We need to have access to taking care of ourselves mentally."
Oscar brings students into this safe haven when they are experiencing strong emotions or disruptive behavior, and she watches it melt away.
"Yes, we want kids to do well academically, but if we do not take care of their social needs, their psychological needs, basic needs, we're not going to get the result we want," Oscar said.
"If you are sitting with a play therapist or a trained school guidance counselor, they can help the child uncover what those unmet needs are and figure out a healthier way to express them," Parsons said. "That's the beauty of play therapy."
The room is filled with all kinds of therapeutic toys.
"Using a sand tray or using puppet theater, bibliotherapy or therapeutic games, or the dollhouse they can kind of uncover and process," Parsons said.
Parsons added that access to mental health resources is not a luxury, it's a necessity.
"Some of these kids are dealing with pretty overwhelming things and they need a resource like this," Parsons said. "Within a few minutes it's like, oh my gosh, there's so many options and it's like their world changes because they have a way to express themselves that they can't in a traditional classroom."
There is currently one other Palm Beach County school with a play therapy room, but it is on a much smaller scale. Parsons hopes this one will become a model for other schools throughout the county.
"I think it's critical. I don't think that you can sit in a classroom and pay attention to a teacher and learn English and math and, whatever, social studies when you have these background problems," Parsons said. "You have kids who are homeless. You have kids in foster care. You have kids with family members who are struggling with addiction. A lot of families in our area can't afford a private therapist, most. So to have this as a resource on school, this isn't a parent taking time off work taking them to a therapist even if they do have access. It's having that for every minute they are here of the school day and that's tremendous."
The principal at Crosspointe Elementary told WPTV the school hopes to reopen the play therapy room at some point down the line, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and school district guidelines.