By Nikki Silva, 2019 Milken Award Winner

You’re right in the middle of a lesson and you have the students’ attention; you feel like they are actually understanding the concept! Students are raising their hands, adding onto what you’re discussing, when suddenly one of your students gets angry, or frustrated, or just needs a break. It interrupts the flow of the class as you try to redirect and refocus that student. You lose momentum and the class loses attention.


This is what commonly happens when students do not have self-control. However, when given the right tools, students can begin to understand what self-control is and how to handle their feelings.

The cool down bookbag started out in our classroom as the cool down center. It was an area of the room we designated for students to go to calm down and refocus. As a class, we brainstormed things we could do to help us relax in a stressful situation. Students drew pictures to remind themselves of these strategies and we pasted the drawings on a trifold board in the center. This worked well for the class that year but the following year we saw that students wanted more control of the situation.

So we decided to give it to them. We placed all the items from the cool down center into a bookbag (“The Cool Down Bookbag”) and told students they could go where ever they felt comfortable in the classroom. As time went on and more and more students started to use the bookbag, they even made suggestions for other items to put in the bookbag. For example, a group of boys asked if they could put a joke book in. This made the cool down bookbag more of their own and it let students take more ownership for their behavior.

The bookbag has items to reach students on every level. There’s a notebook for students to write down their thoughts and emotions. There is also blank paper for students who express themselves better with drawing. There is a deep breath Velcro board where students can monitor their breathing by moving a check mark up or down to count the number of deep breaths they take. A class favorite is the “calm down jar” where students shake a bottle filled with colorful glitter and then relax as they watch the glitter fall.

As the year progressed, if we were in the middle of a lesson and someone needed a time out, they would simply say “I need the bookbag,” and they would go to calm down on their own. When the class was working on their own I would go over and consult with the student who was calming down. Sometimes the student would go back after a few minutes on their own and ease back into the lesson.

The cool down bookbag has helped students take control of their emotions and take the spotlight off of themselves while in a stressful situation.


An educator comes full-circle in Carteret: Milken Educator Awards recognize Nikki Silva for excellence

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