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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 2 months ago

Gotha Middle teachers relax, recharge in new Zen Den

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The new chill spot is a no-work zone on campus designed for the school’s staff.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

Teachers and staff members at Gotha Middle School have a new spot on campus to unwind.

The school’s new Zen Den offers personnel a space to relax, disconnect and take a break from the stresses of work. The Zen Den is strictly a no-work zone, so teachers and staff members can truly catch a mental break. It was put together in an empty classroom on campus in November, and it was unveiled to teachers and staff after Thanksgiving break as a holiday gift to them all.

“It’s a place for them to debrief, calm down and relax during the school day,” Principal Monica Emery said. “There’s nowhere to take a break. Teachers get a planning period (and) they get a lunch, but there’s really no place to escape. It’s not like we work in an office building where you can walk away for your lunch break for an hour.”

Emery added the school needed a space on campus that offers teachers and staff members an escape from the stresses of work. She said the school has been working toward educating students about the importance of taking care of one’s mental health, and she thought it was important that school staff have down time for mental health reasons as well. Although the school has teachers’ lounges all over campus, the lounges often are used as work spaces that don’t offer the same kind of escape as the Zen Den.

“We wanted a space that was really a no-work (zone) — no laptops (and) no phones, unless you’re (using it for) meditating or something,” Emery said. “It’s really a space for them to disconnect for a couple minutes.”

The Zen Den was put together by the school’s partner events coordinator, Davina Chunoo, and registrar, Yete Payne, with the help of some volunteers from the Parent-Teacher Organization. The space is dimly lit and offers chair massagers, a white-noise sound machine, waterfall machine, a lounging area with a TV playing a fireplace scene and even a space to meditate and do yoga among other means of relaxation.

“When you walk into the Zen Den, you’re greeted by grass and plants, and then the room is broken into three parts,” Chunoo said. “You have your first part, which is more of a (relaxation area) with chair massages, and for those that don’t like the massages, you have zero-gravity chairs where you can take a view of the warmth of the lights, the coolness of the water and you can hear different sounds from our sound machine.

“The other area that we have is more of a cozy area,” she said. “It has the roaring fireplace (on TV), a couch and comfortable pillows for you to relax. Then our third area, for those who want to do mental clarity through yoga or whatever their ritual is, we have a yoga area/blank space with candles, water and plants.”

It hasn’t been around long, but the Zen Den has been a hit with teachers and school personnel. 

“In our profession, I think that it is something that is needed so that we … have that time to decompress and reset and get back to doing what we’re here to do, which is to keep our students safe and learning,” said Katrina Bellamy, eighth-grade dean. “It’s awesome that we have it. It’s needed. … I’ve heard (teachers) talk about it and how it’s useful and we really appreciate that we have it. … I have been in there, and you don’t want to leave.”

Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and the West Orange Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a double major in Journalism and Political Science. Contact Eric at...

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