Tess and Janine

3rd Grade

Haley Pilot School

Boston, MA

Tess Miliken and Janine Casapulla have been co-teaching together for three years, which they describe as a “good marriage” in the classroom. Their school, Haley Pilot School in Boston is an inclusive K-8 public school, serving approximately 480 students. Working together, they recognized that the students in their busy 3rd grade classroom had varied emotional needs, they developed the Gas Station Project – an emotional check-in and break system that all students can use to take a break from the class when they need it. Read more about how they’ve created a caring learning environment for their students below!


The Need for A Check-In Space

After a year co-teaching together, Tess and Janine reflected on the supports students needed in their classroom and agreed that they needed a way to better address the emotional needs of their students. They agreed that there was no reason to not explicitly teach students about their own emotions, helping them see that all students can benefit from learning how to manage, identify, regulate and understand emotions and their impacts on the brain and body. After attending a summer training, they brainstormed together. If students needed a way to “pull over and refuel,” they could introduce this in kid-friendly terms using the idea of a “gas station.” Calling it a gas station really helped all students (not just those in individualized programming) normalize the idea that we all need a break sometimes.


Talking About Emotions in Student-Friendly Language

The Gas Station Project provides an emotional check-in system, social-emotional lessons and self-management materials for a break space. It’s a physical space in the classroom that gives students options for spending two minutes to de-escalate and refocus in order to rejoin the class and maintain classroom success both socially and academically. Students learn how to identify their emotions and identify when and how to use the Gas Station. Lessons that go with the Gas Station also teach students about different parts of the brain, how we feel stress and emotions and how those emotions impact our body and our responses. This scale illustrates, in student-friendly language, how to assess emotional state.

In the first week of school, we explicitly teach use of the gas station in these terms. We role play and explain the warning system (1 = flat tire, meaning you need a break; 2 = refuel needed, meaning they go to the gas station; 3 = call for maintenance, meaning we need to meet at a different time). Since introducing the system, no student has ever reached a 3 on the scale. Over time, students set up a mock situation and review expectations, and work on improving the space all year.

We stock the space with materials: fidget cubes, balls, play dough, a movement menu, maze books, search and find books, an iPod for music, coloring books, mindfulness cards–a list that constantly evolves based on what students use most often.

Over time, students work on improving the space themselves and become more independent. We check the materials once a week and switch in and out the services to keep it fresh and new. We generate a list of ideas of when we might need to take a break, and ensure emotional check in language becomes a part of classroom language.


Get Started: How to Set Up Your Own “Gas Station”

Tess and Janine realized that the Gas Station was a project that other teachers might benefit from.  It’s low cost and easy to replicate in the classroom. In the summer of 2017, they trained their colleagues in grades 1-4 on the Gas Station model. They introduced the concept, modeled the introductory lesson with teachers to introduce it to their students, and shared materials to get the teachers started. This includes research on the brain and sharing an understanding of why focusing on building the emotional intelligence of students is important. They’re excited to see their project spread and grow with students across the school community!

Learn more from the educators! Listen to Tess and Janine discuss the Gas Station Project on August 22, 2018.


Thank you so much, Tess and Janine!

Tess is one of 67 teachers who received a 2017 Social Emotional Learning Innovation Fund award from the NoVo Foundation, Education First, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Learn more about the work educators in the #SELinAction community are doing here!