Teachers emphasize mindfulness to CUSD students

How many students are up until 2 a.m. three days out of five? Of course, it’s partly the fault of what one chooses to be involved in; however, teachers have become aware of this pattern and are attempting to instill a new concept within their students: mindfulness.

This mindfulness project is aimed at helping students handle their situations in the present and being able to meditate. It first begun last year when one of River School’s goals was to develop personal wellness in their students, according to River School principal Jay Marden. By starting at an early age, he believes it could turn into a good habit.

“We wish to implement the program to reduce what I would call the ‘noise’ that students experience and hinders their learning,” Marden says. “They can learn strategies to quiet that noise and reduce stress and anxiety and conversely learn how to become more comfortable, calm, centered and rested in the learning environment.”

The first training session occurred Sept. 2 on a staff development day and was led by Wendy Baron, chief officer of social and emotional learning for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and other mindful programs.

“Personal wellness indeed fosters health and happiness, and includes three areas: the mind, body and our emotions,”  Baron says. “Starting with the learning environment is critical as we first need to create cultures and climates where students feel a sense of belonging, safety, respect and support.”

In response, CHS teachers and staff have also become involved in the matter by voluntarily taking an online class in order to help them instill it in the classroom.

“Mindfulness is about having awareness of the your surroundings and understanding the present and your reactions to things,” says Spanish and AVID teacher Bridget Randazzo, who took a class for her own practice and is now taking an online class with MindfulSchools.org to implement it in the classroom.

Another program aimed at helping student wellness in academics is Challenge Success, which was brought into the district by recently hired chief student services officer Casey O’Brien, who has worked with the program in the past.

“Challenge Success works with parents and high-performing schools to increase student wellbeing and engagement with learning,” says Denise Pope, co-founder of the organization.

For her doctoral dissertation, Pope shadowed five students at high-performing high schools, and she found that they were sleep deprived, cheating, and not enjoying nor engaging in their classes; rather, they were just doing the work for grades.

“With our program we hope to help create students who are ready for the real world once they leave school, with the necessary skills of the 21st century and to be self-motivated learners,” Pope says. “I wrote a book about it because it’s a problem that’s prevalent in the lives of lots of students. As a mother and a former high school teacher, I realized that we have to do something about it, and thus I came to create Challenge Success.”

Later in the school year, Carmel students will be asked to take an in-depth survey on how they are feeling in regard to their stress levels with their academic lifestyle and all the activities in which they are involved. Since parents play an influential role in students’ lives, questions will be asked about whether they feel they are reaching their expectations, as well as their parents’.

“We hope that the survey will give feedback to the school and state so we can help create a better environment for the students,” O’Brien says. “We are always looking for more ways to improve our school and district to ensure the wellness and happiness of all students throughout Carmel Unified School District.”

-Joyce Doherty