Mindfulness practice at Hardin Co. elementary has teachers seeing an impact in how some students begin the class day; "channels energy into a better place"

News-Enterprise, May 15, 2017

New Highland students stretch mind with new practice

School’s assistant principal introduced mindfulness in October
By Katherine Knott

Right outside her office at New Highland Elementary School, Assistant Principal Chalis Packer sat in a circle with seven students Wednesday morning and listened to them talk about their lives.

When one student told her how he walked away from another student who had picked on him, she cheered.

“Give it to me,” Packer told the student as they exchanged a high five.

Each morning before school, Packer meets with a select group of students for meditation and yoga. She started these morning sessions in October as a way to help students with their behavior.

“I’m helping students who need help. That’s my goal,” Packer said.

Packer has worked to spread the concept of mindfulness throughout the school and she plans to expand its use next year.

The students’ teacher has noticed a difference in them.

“Some students come in with a chip on their shoulder,” fourth-grade teacher Julie Hoagland said. “They can get it out first thing in the morning.”

Packer saw the mindfulness concept in action at another school and introduced it to New Highland. She observed students and did a mindful activity in the classroom to see which students might benefit from the morning sessions. It’s not required.

Mindfulness can reduce stress, calm students, improve focus and make students more resilient, according to Mindful Schools, a national nonprofit that trains teachers on the concept.

Packer has worked with about 25 students this year, and, for the most part, her students don’t come to see her anymore for discipline reasons.

She said she thinks the group is future chief executive officers, and she tells them that.

Packer’s students have led the staff in yoga stretches at a faculty meeting and she hopes they’ll be leaders at the school’s mindful camp starting June 5.

The camp focuses on mindfulness and incorporates math and literacy, Packer said. Students going to New Highland next school year can apply for the camp.

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present, according to Psychology Today. Meditation and yoga help to put students in a mindful state, so they can be more aware of their emotions and control them.

Packer said mindful practices help students learn skills they’ll need to be successful in life.

As the students stretched Wednesday morning, Packer asked them to be mindful of the floor and sounds they hear around them.

“When you are in the classroom, do the same thing,” she said. “Be mindful of what the teacher says.”

An increasing number of schools and educators across the nation are using mindfulness exercises, according to The Atlantic, which published a story in 2015 on the mindfulness-in-education movement.

During their sessions, Packer has given students different strategies to deal with emotions and situations.

“There’s nothing wrong with being angry,” Packer told them. “It’s what we do with it.”

She encourages students to walk away or tell an adult rather than fighting back if a fellow student tries to instigate a problem.

Hoagland has seen students actively use strategies.

Recently, one of the students was provoked by another but did not react, she said. Instead, he went to the classroom and wrote about the incident in a journal Packer gave him.

“For him, that was huge,” Hoagland said.

Hoagland didn’t buy into the concept of mindfulness right away, but once she began using it, she saw a difference immediately, she said.

The yoga helps students focus and puts them back on track. She used it several times before state testing, she said.

For the students in Packer’s morning group, she said it helps them release frustration.

“It channels their energy into a better place,” she said.

Hoagland acknowledged that mindfulness doesn’t solve all problems, but she has noticed a “huge difference” among her students.

She plans on finding more ways to bring yoga and meditation into the classroom next year.

Packer sees meditation as another tool for teachers. She has found that building relationships with students is key.

“If you don’t know your students, you don’t know what they need,” she said.

After the students are done stretching, they prepare to return to class and Packer tells them how impressed she is.

“You’ve all done wonderful this year,” she told them.

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