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Rocking chairs to reduce stress at WA

Varshini Ramanathan, Co-Managing Editor

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A student works on a rocking chair.

It’s rare to find a moment to take a breather at WA, as classes and clubs compound to create a packed school life for students. However, there is a space to take a break where students would least expect it: three rocking chairs sit near the staircase by the Digital Cafe.

The Westford Rockers Project, headed by Stephanie Gosselin, has taken a unique approach to a problem Westford Academy has been grappling with for years: student stress. The wooden rocking chairs near the Digital Cafe will soon be blooming with color, portraying different themes by the clubs and organizations who have each “adopted” a chair. So far, International Club, the National Organization for Women, Project Purple, and NOWA have each adopted a rocking chair.

This idea was the brainchild of Digital Learning Specialist Stephanie Gosselin, who first brought rocking chairs from her own backyard into the school last year. She reasoned that it was more comfortable to use a laptop on one’s lap and that it was easier to do work, and she did in fact find students using the rocking chairs in the language hallway last year.

When springtime rolled around, Gosselin removed the chairs to bring them back to her own house. According to her, students were surprised and sad to find that the rocking chairs were gone, so she began to consider finding a way to implement them in the school permanently. She wrote to the Westford Education Foundation (WEF) and received a grant for the wooden rocking chairs that inhabit the school this year.

Gosselin cites projects such as the Cows of Chicago, Play Me, I’m Yours, or airport rockers as inspiration for the Westford Rockers Project, as they both bring art into daily life in unexpected ways. The Cows of Chicago brings colorful cow statues across the city and the Play Me, I’m Yours pianos are situated throughout various cities nationwide, inviting passers-by to create music.

The airport rockers in particular share a similar motivation to that of the rockers at WA, as the busy environment of an airport is another area where something like a rocking chair can invite a moment of much-needed calm.

“[…] The idea behind the rockers is that they are in a place where you would not necessarily expect to find them. You would not expect to find rocking chairs in the hall of an airport, and that’s what people [feel] when they sit down,” Gosselin said. “And if you sit there and rock for five minutes, you feel good. […] It just slows you down for a few minutes.”

The idea to integrate art and relaxation was Gosselin’s as well; she wanted to make the chairs artistic in some form and decided to bring both initiatives together to create the process of painting rockers with a certain theme. She considers them to be a way for clubs to express their voices and present their message to the student body in an eye-catching and vibrant form.

Junior Isabel Redman, founder of WA’s mental health club NOWA (No One Walks Alone), has decided to adopt a rocking chair and have it painted with the theme of wellness.

“The opportunity for us as a Mental Health Awareness Club was too good to pass up. […] It’s exciting that we’re able to paint it on a wellness rocking chair next to other rocking chairs also encouraging students to slow down,” she said.

Although all three available chairs were taken by the time NOWA made the decision to adopt a rocking chair, Redman put her Girl Scout money into securing a chair. It will arrive on November 6 and should be finished by early December.

As for the meaning and design of the chair, Redman hopes to collaborate with club members and students in general to convey the club’s message.

“Our club’s message truly is that No One Walks Alone. Someone is always here to support you, [and] understand you. Comforting and inspirational phrases for people to read will portray this message. We envisage cool colors, blues and greens, to be calming and comforting. An image on the seat of people helping others or some sort of representation of mental health is being played with,” she said.

Although not directly connected with it, the project echoes the school’s Challenge Success initiative that aims to reduce student stress over the long term. Gosselin has personal reasons to be invested in the stress levels of students, which goes beyond her role as staff of the school:

“I think as a faculty member of WA, we’re all concerned with stress levels and relaxation, as a parent in community, I’m particularly interested,” she said.

Not all students may take the rocking chairs seriously, or understand that it may be a viable way to reduce stress. However, Gosselin explains that the chairs are targeted at those who will be able to understand their value and benefit from them.

“People who want to use them, and understand and appreciate them, will continue to use them,” she said.

As of now, there are not concrete plans to expand the number of rocking chairs in the school, partially due to limited space. Eventually, though, Gosselin hopes to have 6-10 club-painted chairs around the school.

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Rocking chairs to reduce stress at WA