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Program to focus young minds begins at two elementary schools

Tammi Michaelson, literacy coach at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, starts the day by chiming a bell over the loudspeaker and leading a “take five” exercise, which encourages students to focus on the present moment and clear their minds. One mindful message recently was “a little progress each day adds up to big results.”

This is part of a new mindful program at two Riverhead elementary schools. Roanoke Avenue Elementary starts the day with a mindful exercise during morning announcements and the program at Phillips Avenue Elementary is modeled after the Hawn Foundation’s MindUp curriculum.

“Right now we’re doing it in the morning and I encourage everyone to do it throughout the day when they feel like they need to refocus,” Ms. Michaelson said. “My hope is that they use this as a life skill. We’re still all learning as we’re going.”

Some classrooms are even preparing to start yoga in class and students have learned simple poses like the tree pose.

Mindfulness is a state of mental calmness, when students are focused on the present moment. It involves programs that provide students with strategies to calm their minds, reduce anxiety and refocus. They infuse lessons on compassion, stress reduction and self-awareness.

Phillips Avenue School is taking a different approach with the MindUp curriculum. It includes 25 mindful lessons, with interactive worksheets and smart lessons that were designed by a team of teachers last year. Jennifer Cook, a third-grade teacher at the school, was instrumental in the curriculum’s design.

Literacy coach Tammi Michaelson helped pioneer the mindful program at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. She leads a listening exercise by ringing a bell and encouraging students to be present in the moment. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

“They’re brain-related activities trying to help kids understand how their brain works,” Ms. Cook said. “We practice mindful breathing, mindful listening and really just being in the moment and applying it throughout the day. It’s going to become a schoolwide initiative.”

A major part of the MindUp program is teaching students the different parts of the brain where certain emotions and feelings come from.

“Often we react without understanding what we’re reacting to, as opposed to a thoughtful response for different situations,” Phillips Avenue principal Debra Rodgers said. “We wanted to give the kids the skills to be successful with dealing with it all. It’s very different for kids growing up right now. They have access to what’s going on everywhere in the world.”

Ms. Rodgers said the school chose the MindUp curriculum because it can be molded to fit the needs of each individual classroom, and they are able to be responsive to feedback and tweak the program each year. Teachers have the freedom to teach the lessons in a way that relates to classroom incidents.

Both schools are still in an introductory stage with the program, but hope to expand mindfulness to every classroom.

Teachers have found using a mindful exercise after recess is most helpful as the students can calm down and refocus before going back to learning. Ms. Cook said her students have told her they use the exercises at home when they get upset or if a sibling is picking on them.

“It helps us when we’re mad and we’re feeling uncomfortable,” said Raschel Fuentes, a third-grader in Ms. Cook’s class. “We take one minute to breathe and calm down when we’re mad or sad.”

Photo caption: Stacy Tuohy’s second-grade class practices a mindful exercise last Wednesday at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

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