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Purple Rooms: Students’ passion for mental health brings new resources for their peers

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Students are leading the charge on creating unique spaces at school dedicated to mental health. These spaces will be used for students to process life experiences and emotions in real time.

“We call it the Purple Room project,” said Joana Enriquez Lopez, a senior at Brooklyn Center High School STEAM. “The Purple Room is a place where you can decompress and just be able to process things on your own when you need to without having to feel like you are being judged.”

The team of student-researchers, known as the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) team, started this process by brainstorming different ways to better support students and their mental health at school. From these sessions, the students found a common occurrence in their academic experience: They all had experienced strong emotions without the opportunity to process them during the school day. 

“We noticed a general problem of students not having a safe space to be open about their mental health,” said Sheridan Zeck, senior. 

“I feel like a lot of kids don’t know exactly what mental health is or how to express themselves. I know in the Black community where I grew up, a lot of people don’t know how to express themselves. They don’t really go to therapy,” said LeeRayVone Gibson, senior. “In fact, therapy is looked down on in my community specifically because it can break up families, so people don’t seek those mental health resources.” 

That is when the students enlisted the help of their peers. Through a thoughtfully crafted survey, the team received over 150 student responses to questions about dealing with mental health at school and found a similar result.

“A lot of students expressed that when they were having heightened emotional moments, (whether they were good or bad feelings, or anger or sadness) oftentimes, adults would interfere with that by trying to have them push their emotions down and not let them feel [those emotions] in the space,” remarked Amina Smaller, YPAR Coordinator.

“After doing our survey, we saw how much the community really needed something like this,” said Kai Johnson, junior. 

The team began intentionally designing this space after receiving a Prairie Care Fund Grant for $9,841 in November 2021. The team created a visual concept of the room, purchased lighting and decor, built the furniture, and created easy ways for students to sign in and out during their visit. 


YPAR team receiving their Purple Room grant in November 2021 with Prairie Care Fund staff.


Not only is this a great resource for current students, this space is intended to adjust to the changing needs of the student body. “That is one of the cool things about the Purple Room and it being student-led,” mentioned Johnson. “It will always be there to best fit whatever the students’ needs are at the time.”

The YPAR team hopes this idea expands to become a resource for staff, be offered at other schools, and evolves into something that creates lasting change. In fact, they have already started a ripple effect in the community. According to Michelle Auld, district wellness coordinator, BCCS has received funding through Hennepin County Health at Work and CDC funding with the MN Department of Education to create a similar space for staff in the elementary school, secondary school, and Early College Academy. 

Check out our students featured on Twin Cities Live last month! 

YPAR team members building furniture for the Purple Room.