PORTLAND — Navigating the social and academic pressures of high school can be difficult and stressful, which is why the Natural Helpers at Deering High School have come up with a fun and creative way for students to unwind and take a break.

The group has assembled 14 “De-Stress Baskets,” which they’ve placed strategically around the school in the last couple weeks. The baskets are full of calming and centering activities, including mindfulness coloring books.

While the baskets haven’t been out for very long, “so far we’ve seen students using the materials and enjoying the stress toys,” said Sophie Galin, one of the students behind the De-Stress Baskets idea.

“I think we’ll be able to see the full effects towards SAT and exam time, when stress levels are at their highest point,” she said.

Galin and Charlie Scalia-Bruce came up with the concept and then spent “months tinkering with and improving the idea,” Scalia-Bruce said. “We just wanted to find a way to help other students, (as well as ourselves) to relax in the classroom.”

The two applied for a grant from Painting for a Purpose and received $466 to purchase the baskets and the items that went into them.

One of Painting for a Purpose’s main missions is “encouraging the civic engagement of young people by supporting them in putting their good ideas into action,” the organization’s website states.

All projects must be student-led and the goal is to make a positive difference. Portland Public School students in grades 3-12 are eligible to apply for grants and the projects can either be school- or community-based.

Past grants include a pollinator garden at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, a fashion show at Casco Bay High School designed to raise awareness of and fight sexual assault and a mental health awareness mural at Deering High School.

Melissa McStay, a school social worker, advises the Natural Helpers at Deering High and said the group’s goal is to find ways to provide support to their peers.

Scalia-Bruce said the grant from Painting for a Purpose will help the Natural Helpers keep the De-Stress Baskets full and said the group would be “performing regular check-ins to keep them functioning and accessible.”

Scalia-Bruce said he, Galin and McStay met throughout the fall to discuss just what items should go into the De-Stress Baskets. Along with coloring books and fidget spinners, he said the trio found “Legos, puzzles, and more unexpected, but welcome, additions,” during a recent shopping trip to the local dollar store.

With the baskets, “we are helping both students and teachers in an original way. In taking initiative and creating a new support system for our peers and ourselves, we are contributing to the school’s overall well-being,” he said.

Scalia-Bruce called high school “very stressful” and said many aspects of the experience aren’t “exactly peachy. This, along with social and hormonal stressors, means that students deserve an outlet. Especially in challenging A.P. (Advanced Placement) classes that have strenuous course loads.”

Galin said Natural Helpers are a resource for their peers who may be going through a difficult time, or just need someone to talk to. Other stress-relieving activities the group has instituted in the past include a Hug Day, she said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Natural Helpers at Deering High School have placed De-Stress Baskets around the school in recent weeks to help students who may be stressed by social and academic pressures.

Deering High School students Charlie Scalia-Bruce and Sophie Galin received a grant from Paint with a Purpose to create De-Stress Baskets, which the Natural Helpers have placed around the school.

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