Do any of the following sound familiar?
- In a rush, you put your keys down and race to your next task. When you go to retrieve the keys, you can’t remember where you put them.
- You’re cruising through social media and someone’s comment angers you. You fire off an emotional response and hit send.
- Work has been busy. When a new task surfaces, your stress levels hit the roof, rendering you overwhelmed and unable to focus.
The scenarios above, and many similar ones, are common challenges for adults and teens. All are symptoms of our society’s frenetic pace and short attention spans. Enter mindfulness: the mental process of bringing your attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment.
Many individuals look toward mindfulness practices to regain control and a sense of calm in their lives. New Castle Senior High School’s Mindfulness Initiative is bringing it to their staff and special needs students. The initiative, which is centered around two key efforts, launched at the beginning of the 2017-’18 academic year after several years of discussion.
During the in-service day, held in November 2017, several yoga classes were held for teachers.
“That was different than anything we’ve ever done,” says Jonalyn Romeo, assistant principal of New Castle Junior and Senior High Schools. Along with yoga, teachers were part of discussions on mindfulness and stress management. They also watched a video highlighting the value of mindfulness in reaching goals.
“Our staff is in the early stages on mindfulness,” Romeo says. “The video showed that teaching it really benefits students. This helped open teachers’ minds to the concept. Teacher feedback has been positive and they are implementing it themselves as well as with their students.”
The school has not adopted a formal mindfulness curriculum, but teachers are implementing and teaching strategies: Take a breath, think things through deliberately and weigh choices with consequences.
“Mindfulness is portable,” Romeo says. “Once you learn the skills you can tap into it.”
The keystone feature of New Castle’s Mindfulness Initiative is the Mindfulness Room. Designed primarily by Julie Lambo, emotional support teacher, and Kate Blundo, learning support teacher, the Mindfulness Room is a safe, quiet environment to help students with special needs – students who have been diagnosed with an emotional and/or mental health need — decompress when emotion levels rise.
“We had a vision before starting the room,” Lambo says.
To keep the room budget-friendly, Lambo and Blundo asked colleagues to donate items. The room has working space where students can sit and relax around a table or cozy up with bean bags in a carpeted nook. A diffuser fills the room with calming essential oils. Lighting is soft, and the color palette is comprised of earthy greens, tans and browns.
Students have access to various activities such as play-dough, fidget spinners, books, sketch books and adult coloring books. There are computers for students to go on Calm.com, an app that offers advice and guidance to help users reduce anxiety and sleep better.
The room is exclusive to students with special needs, and they are free to use it at any time. Lambo says students typically only need 5-10 minutes before regaining composure and can continue throughout the day.
Lambo also incorporates the Mindfulness Room into her emotional support classes. She teaches English and math, and for the first 10 minutes of each class she brings her students to the Mindfulness Room. Then she returns students to the teaching classroom.
“We do breathing activities while listening to soft music,” Lambo says. “These techniques bring students back to the present moment. Their minds often wander without them realizing it.”
With the help of the Mindfulness Room, Lambo has watched her students develop more self-awareness and better emotional self-management.
“My students tell me, ‘I had to use my breathing during cooking class,’ or ‘I had to go to the Mindfulness Room for five minutes,’” Lambo says. “And this is just September!”
Eventually, Romeo would like to have a Mindfulness Room for the junior high and more yoga available for the teachers.
“The initiative is still in its infancy,” Romeo says. “We want to refine it before expanding.”