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Back to School: Mindful techniques help Walter Bickett Elementary students embrace the present

Mindful Movement Last year, more than 200 Union County Public Schools staff members were trained on the importance of mindfulness and self-care for educators and students. The training taught the employees a set of strategies intended to help students achieve success through focus based on the Five Principles of Health and Wellness: body, breath, mind, attention and engagement.

 Since then, the therapeutic techniques have been practiced in six schools across the district, including Walter Bickett Elementary (WBES), where Principal Dr. Jamie Benfield hopes her students will ultimately learn how to integrate mindfulness into their lives.

“If students are dealing with anxiety or other issues that children aren’t used to dealing with, then they can’t get down to what they’re here to do. And their job is to learn,” she said. “The first priority is to make sure that we are teaching the whole child, that they feel safe while they’re here and that we’re giving them strategies to be successful -- not just in academics, but also in life.”

Last year, WBES began to incorporate mindfulness into its day by guiding the school’s 750+ students through breathing exercises over the intercom each morning. Books about mindfulness were also available to students during the day.

Color therapy was introduced this year with areas of the school painted in the seven colors of the chakras, or energy centers in the human body. Mindful Movement The main lobby was painted red to make students and visitors feel grounded when entering the school, classroom hallways were painted yellow to make students feel confident and in control of their lives, and common spaces were painted orange to encourage connections and acceptance of others.

“We taught the students about their brain and we taught them about the power of being mindful, but now we want them to practice it,” she said. “So that’s why we added Mindful Movement to the related arts wheel so that we can practice some of those strategies.”

During the Mindful Movement class, which is taught by WBES Behavior Modification Teacher Ashley Covington, students explore mindfulness through games, activities and creative expression. The class incorporates yoga poses to help the students increase their strength, balance and flexibility while also helping to establish and improve emotional recognition and social skills.

Ashley integrates literacy into the class by reading aloud to the students. And specific poses and postures help the students alleviate emotions and feelings related to frustration, anxiety, hyperactivity and more.

“I enjoyed the exercises because it made me feel calmer,” said fifth-grade student Isabella Armenta. “I like the tree pose the most because it made me remember my grandma’s favorite tree. When I leave, I feel like I can concentrate a little more in my class.”

Dr. Benfield said it’s important to teach strategies that students can use now in their academics, in the future as they prepare for college and careers, and in their communities.

“We are teaching the youth of America. These kids are going to grow up and become adults in the workforce,” she said. “If we can teach them strategies to be present in the moment and not dwell on their past and to make an impact on others by being kind, peaceful and mindful, then they will have better futures.”