Oasis in the Cookshire Elementary School


Kevin Dezan and Tina Jacklin in the new Oasis of the Cookshire Elementary School.

Tina Jacklin, Kevin Dezan, and Noemie Caya greet me at the door to the room. We’re in the Cookshire Elementary School, where Jacklin is principal, Caya is psychoeducator, and Dezan is special education technician.
I’m here to tour the Oasis. It’s a spacious room created in November 2021 to help children with feelings that can distract them from learning.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in problems – the pandemic has been stressful for everyone. I think children feel the stress that parents are under,” said Jacklin.
“But we had problems beforehand, as well,” Dezan noted. “There were days when Tina and I would just be going around from crisis to crisis. We started thinking there’s got to be a better way.”
Dezan and Caya visited the elementary school in Danville which already had an Oasis. “We came back with a lot of ideas, and with a lot of optimism as well.”
Dezan himself is a key feature of the room, but it has a lot of other attractions, too.
Just inside the door is a “check-in space,” a small couch facing a four-colour display of “zones” of emotions. Blue stands for a family of “down” feelings; green, a “relaxed and ready to learn” state; yellow, frustrated or worried feelings, and red, an angry or out-of-control state.
Each student positions their name card within one of the zones. Dezan takes note, talks with the child about how they’re feeling and what just happened, and sets a timer for how long their break will be – five or ten minutes, max. “The breaks,” he said, “give a student time to reflect, and give me a chance to help them learn tools and strategies that get them out of the situation.”
Some of the room’s features are designed to relieve anxiety, such as “fidgets” for restless hands. Some provide rest, like a little isolation-cube bed with stuffed animals, or a one-person teepee with noise-cancelling headphones. A dartboard with velcro and styrofoam balls might help raise a person’s energy level.
The demolition corner might be where a person releases excess energy by tearing apart a laptop (while wearing safety glasses, to be sure). Stepping stones meander across the carpet. Meditative or calming strategies abound: special markers for drawing on the window panes that overlook the playground, a Lego wall, a kinetic sand box, puzzles, or colouring pages. Breathing techniques: “smell the flower, blow out the candle.”
The Oasis is used preventively, as well. “We note when certain kids often have outbursts, and schedule a break so they come in here before it happens,” Dezan said.
Jacklin said each classroom has a little teepee, “a calming corner,” where children can take a short break during class if they feel the need.
The Cookshire Elementary School has 104 students in pre-Kindergarten to Grade 6. At first, only 10 or 15 children visited the Oasis in a day; now 20 or 30 do. They come for different reasons: For a scheduled break, because of problem behaviour, or even to do schoolwork.
“Some come because they’ve earned a break, too,” said Jacklin. “We’re trying to have a space where everyone can come. We don’t want it to be seen as a bad place. It’s a place that is helpful, and everyone can come and benefit from having a conversation.”
“Even as adults, we’re not always in that perfect happy zone,” said Dezan. “You can feel all sort of different emotions in a day, and it’s ok. We try to give students ideas about how to work through those emotions and get back into a happier more ready-to-learn place.”
The Oasis approach is working, observed Jacklin. “For the benefits, it definitely was not costly.”

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