For Eagle Scout project, SM West student creates respite space at Westridge Middle School

Leah Wankum - August 12, 2019 11:45 am
SM West student Andrew Schnake upgraded the Recovery Room at Westridge Middle as part of his Eagle Scout project.

When Shawnee Mission West student Andrew Schnake was still in middle school, he went through difficult times of stress and anxiety — times when he would have appreciated a few minutes’ break during the school day to recharge and refresh.

The rising sophomore wanted to afford future students at his old school, Westridge Middle School, with the opportunity he didn’t have. So he chose to upgrade a Recovery Room already in use at the school for his Eagle Scout project.

“If a student is going through the school day and maybe they’re just having a stressful day or something is causing them to not be able to focus in the classroom, or anything like that, this is the kind of place that a student can go to for maybe a few minutes, maybe a couple of hours, as long as they need to really be able to just calm down and focus so they can get back to class,” Schnake said.

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The Westridge school community celebrated the newly upgraded Recovery Room with a reception on Friday afternoon.

Room 104 is a reconfigured storage room the school had been using last year for students to drop by when they needed a few minutes to rest and recuperate from stress or anxiety.

“It was just a storage room; it wasn’t inviting to anyone,” Schnake said. “A lot of what I had heard was that people thought it was part of the in-school suspension room, and no one really realized what it was, and there was no materials to help the students.”

Schnake said school administrators encouraged him to step in and find ways to improve the Recovery Room to make it more suitable for students’ needs.

“I really could have used this room quite a bit, and it wasn’t here,” Schnake said, “but I wanted to make sure that other students could (use) it if they need it.”

Jeremy McDonnell, principal of Westridge, said schools these days increasingly need spaces for students to calm down.

“We do a lot of work with trauma-informed care here at Westridge,” McDonnell said. “It’s comforting to know, if you’re not OK there is a space for you until you are.”

McDonnell said students typically use the room for just a few minutes so they can feel ready to focus in the classroom again.

“I think it’s nice to have it from a student’s perspective on what it needs, because he lived it,” McDonnell said, adding that Schnake was able to gather funding and resources himself for the project.

The summer project was part of Schnake’s final tasks to complete in order to gain his Eagle Scout rank. He raised a little more than $1,000 for the upgrades and collected several donations of weighted blankets, fidgets and art supplies for students to enjoy in the room. He noted that the project was a group effort by about 30 volunteers who gave 15 hours of their time to the project, as well as 30 individual donors who contributed the materials.

His parents, Dawn and John Schnake, said they were proud of their son’s accomplishments.

“When he was a student here at Westridge, and now at West, sometimes he needs a place just to calm down, focus, and this kind of room would have been so helpful when he was a student here,” said Dawn Schnake, his mother. “So we’re glad that he can make this opportunity available for younger kids coming up who have the same anxiety challenges.”

The room features staff support, dim lighting from a few lamps, a turquoise-painted wall to encourage a tranquil space, a secluded corner for students who need to sit quietly and alone, a small table where students can eat lunch as well as a few desks, a lounging area and even an exercise bicycle for students wanting to burn off energy.

“It actually feels really good, because I’m just now feeling and thinking more about how much I’m helping people,” Schnake said. “And it really feels good knowing that I once was going through what some people might go through in the next school year.”

Schnake’s younger brother, Matthew, is also working on his own Eagle Scout project: A benefit concert later this year to raise awareness for multiple hereditary exostosis, a bone growth disorder that he has himself.

“We think it’s great that they’re doing projects that highlight their individual disabilities, and really proud of them,” Dawn Schnake said.

“I think it’s neat because it makes the projects very personal for them,” John Schnake added.

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