More schools teaching mindfulness

Students in Delaware schools are finding themselves “grounded” as they learn about more than just academics.

Techniques teaching mindfulness, or the process of being aware of the present and one’s thoughts and actions, are being used in a growing number of classrooms throughout the state.

Smyrna School District Superintendent Patrik Williams said the district is incorporating the concept in hope of exposing children to the idea of self-care earlier in their emotional development.

“Mindfulness, trauma-invested strategies and restorative practices are all designed to support social and emotional learning in the classroom. Only when self-care is in place for both students and staff are we able to reach our full potential,” he said.

Practicing mindfulness in school settings can vary from district to district, but he said the idea is to include a meditation-based practice allowing students and educators the chance to “focus on the present, shut out distractions, reduce stressors and allow the mind to better concentrate.”

Many of Smyrna’s educators now guide students through “Mindfulness Minutes” during the day to help ground everyone. Calming corners are also used in every classroom to help students “self-regulate and regain their ‘center,’” Mr. Williams explained.

“Additionally, we are teaching our students Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain, accompanied by Kristin Souers’ instructional video to educate our students on brain science. Finally, we have 5- or 10-minute ‘tapping out’ opportunities for staff to request support or coverage during those times when ‘life’ imposes its will on all of us, making it difficult for us to concentrate on the educational process. All of these strategies help our students and staff to be more mindful,” he added.

Such techniques have become so important to educators that Gov. John Carney signed legislation in July, sponsored by state Rep. Sean Lynn, to create the Take Care Delaware program, a trauma-based initiative requiring first responders and law enforcement officers to let their local school district know when a child has been involved in a traumatic event. The program will begin in the Smyrna School District and expand to other districts in Delaware after a successful start.

Other districts aren’t waiting for that initiative to begin practicing mindfulness in their schools, however.
The Milford School District, for example, has trained some of its staff, including all school counselors, in the art of mindfulness. The Caesar Rodney School District also works mindfulness into its students and staff members’ daily schedule.

“Mindfulness is a strategy that helps people work on their own mental health and mental wellbeing,” said Kevin Thompson, director for Student Services for Caesar Rodney School District. “Some people hear this and think we’re talking a religion. There is meditation involved. We are doing some classroom yoga and stuff like that. With kids and the developing brain with trauma involved, kids react in a way you wouldn’t expect. We’re starting to look at the science behind that and find a way to help them through it.”

North Star Elementary School Principal Karin Jakubowski, of the Red Clay Consolidated School District in New Castle County, said mindfulness has been so critical to the district’s education environment that behavior referrals have dropped over the last two years after implementing 20-minute sessions each week for students and staff.

“I had two instances this week when I was called in for administrative support in the classroom. The students were off task and causing problems. When they came to the office area or out in the hallway, they were not in a state to talk about what happened. So, I told them to choose the breaths they wanted to do and then we did it together. And then they were able to talk. In both instances, they were in such a state that we couldn’t get a response out of them. But then I could problem solve with them,” Ms. Jakubowski said.

North Star Elementary School used grants and other funding to bring mindfulness training to their students and staff.
“And the kids’ responses were so positive that parents were saying the kids were coming home teaching them the breathing techniques,” she added.
North Star Elementary School Special Education Teacher Kara Patti also has seen the benefits with their students.

“All of that breath work that is taught, we use it as tools. Mindfulness training comes in when you want to react. It’s the ability to observe the situation and not immediately reach to it,” she said. “This is a life skill. It’s really training their brain in a different way.”

All of the schools in the Red Clay Consolidated School District now incorporate mindfulness or social emotional training to benefit those in their buildings.
“It’s very engaging. Kids and teachers are getting into it. If you’re emotionally upset and charged, you’re not in that place where you can learn,” Ms. Jakubowski said. “And it’s not just for kids. There’s this big thing out there now called self-compassion. Like nurses, they give, give, give and give out. What I love about this program is it’s actually getting the teachers to get to that place where they take care of themselves. As much as it’s helping the kids, the teachers are also getting a moment to center themselves and they are getting aware of when their emotions start to rise.

When their emotions are stabilized, they are giving their best.”
Ms. Patti said mindfulness is a new trend she’s happy to explore in the school setting, adding, “Schools incorporating mindfulness is brand new. But it’s catching on and it’s catching on fast. It’s backed by research and it’s taking off extremely fast.”

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