Westside High School students use virtual reality to improve brain skills

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — For several local students, participating in the Peak Performance Camp at Westside High School gave them the opportunity to learn how to deal with stressful situations through the use of virtual reality.

“I only thought of VR as games, and all sort of video games, as just games but now I realize that they can help you in a big way,” said John Van Gelder, a junior at Westside High School.

From athletes to culinary arts, students like John at Westside are using virtual technology to improve brain skills with a platform called NeuroTrainer.

CEO of NeuroTrainer, Noah Rolland said they created the platform to be fun and not feel like work while focusing on the ability to see new choices, new reactions and adapt the brain over time.

“Video games are designed to just make you want to play the video game, that’s the end result they’re looking for. Ours are designed to have cognitive improvements,” Rolland said.

Rolland said using the headsets helps students understand how to improve their focus for school and everyday life. Something incoming junior, Eloise White said she has noticed.

“It’s helping with my focus. We work into a state of flow so that we can be easily able to be calm, yet our attention on things and be able to complete all the tasks that we need to do,” White said.

For one rising senior, it has helped him to focus on his athletics.

“We focus on, like, the mental aspects of sports and I think especially this allows us to take control of the things we can and to allow the game, whichever one you play, to move more slowly and move at your pace,” Wesley Okafor said.

Students at Westside High School said they were surprised that the anxieties of the real world can be dealt with in a virtual one.

“I hope to use this as a tool to help me control my anxiety, by focusing on what’s real and what’s not,” White said.

Eloise who said she has severe anxiety and is surprised by how real the VR experience feels.

“It definitely feels like, ‘Okay, I’m in a new space. All of this is real but I know that it’s not,'” White said.

Rolland says the modules in the virtual settings are helping students cope with the circumstances they might face in the real world.

“I always look at their breathing, and can they control their breathing when they are in a stressful circumstance or stressful environment inside the headset,” Rolland said.

And if they can do it in VR, he said, they have a better chance of implementing those techniques in school. It’s something the students say they hope to have the opportunity to do.

Rolland says the vision is to implement this technology at Westside in many ways including the athletic room, study hall and, possibly, at home to help students compete with, what he calls, the culture of distraction we all experience today.

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