FAIRVIEW PARK, Ohio — A small room inside Gilles-Sweet Elementary School in Fairview Park has a big purpose. The safe space was created for the youngest students to work through their emotions.
"They can deal with their anxiety. They can deal with their depression," said Rick Haney.
The room inside the elementary school is supported by the John C. Haney Foundation. It was started by Haney and his wife and named after their son, a Fairview Park graduate.
John Haney killed himself in November of 2017, less than a year after he graduated from Baldwin Wallace University.
It is one of six safe spaces created by the foundation and the first in an elementary school.
"We're finding out little kids need this too," Haney said about the importance of these rooms.
The room is near the front office of the school, away from the hustle and bustle of the hallways. It is dimly lit with twinkle lights, a light grey tent, and a bubbling fish tank. There is a couch, coloring books and fidget toys for kids to use.
It's a space for students, and staff, to go to decompress and process emotions. But, Haney said, it's a space for people to go and talk.
He said his son didn't talk to anyone about how he was feeling.
"What we really encourage in these rooms is to speak out," Haney said about the room.
Leaders at the school agree the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is impacting students. The space gives them a chance to work through what's happening around them with a trusted teacher or the school counselor.
"We have students who are experiencing a lot more trauma today than we ever have," said Matt Krivak, the principal.
He said the room is already being used.
"While we are here for, obviously, the academic part of a child's education, we are also here for the social-emotional part of their education as well," he said.
Haney said the foundation has plans for more safe spaces at schools around Northeast Ohio at the end of 2021 and at the start of 2022.