By Marco Santana
Dana Manzo understands the importance of propping up a support system for college students.
Having spent part of her 12 years at Beacon College as a mental health counselor, it’s not lost on her the impact seemingly simple actions, such as teaching students how to do their laundry or how to cook, can have on students likely on their own for the first time.
She said the school’s concentration on and the resources it spends on these types of support services can be crucial to Beacon’s unique student population.
“It’s not just about how they are doing in the classroom,” said Manzo, the school’s vice president of student affairs. “We have to think about what they need outside of the classroom and make sure we can support them and that they can function after college to get a career that helps them live the abundant life.”
The school already had a robust support system, born out of an approach that takes feedback frequently and shifts gears, as needed. However, a recent push that encouraged shared resources among the school’s departments has bolstered the effort even further.
“It helped us recognize that with more resources and with us collaborating more, our students have a better chance of being successful,” she said. “We are not looking at how can we get a degree for these students but, rather, how can we help them be successful, well-rounded adults, in every area of their lives.”
One example of the school’s willingness to pour resources into this effort is a new Sensory and Mindfulness Room, set to open this month at the school’s Counseling and Wellness Center.
The 324-square-foot room will serve as a quiet space for students who might need to get away from the hectic education environment.
It will also be equipped with installations meant to stimulate the senses, including auditory sounds, light displays, and other visuals.
“Each area has a purpose, which is for students to either interact with stimuli or find a place with no stimuli,” Manzo said. “They really thought of every little thing.”
The room was the brainchild of a group of experienced mental health counselors at the school. The idea was to create a space that introduces students to environments that could potentially ground their senses while also guiding them in figuring out how to handle personal episodes.
“A lot of times we are looking at figuring out their daily need,” said Jennifer Castilloveitia, an occupational therapist and the school’s disability accommodations director. Castilloveitia helped design and formulate ideas for the room, which will formally open on Feb. 5 with a kickoff that will include students and promote its use.
“This can often be through running or jumping but it can also be through, perhaps, sensory deprivation,” she said. “Sometimes our senses need a break. Sometimes we are overly stimulated, especially in a neurodiverse population.”
As much as neurodiverse students need specific levels of stimulation, so does the public. Castilloveitia said one goal of the sensory room is to discover each student’s specific needs and create an environment where they can ground their senses.
“We are all very similar in that we do need that sensory diet,” she said. “But sometimes students with neurodiversity might need help discovering what that intervention might be or how to maintain it without being overstimulated. We help them find ways to do that.”
That might mean an area where a student can sit quietly. Or it could mean a contraption that tests their reflexes through sensory cues.
In the end, it all comes back to making sure students can succeed without judgment, Manzo said.
“If you are triggered, you are not able to focus,” she said. “You are not able to receive the information that an instructor is trying to teach you. So, this (sensory room) allows you to get back to a place where you are capable of processing and responding to the classroom material.”