Chandler schools bring mindfulness to youngsters SanTan Sun News

Chandler schools bring mindfulness to youngsters

Chandler schools bring mindfulness to youngsters
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

After providing a space at Hamilton High School for students to decompress from stress and anxiety, a Chandler elementary school is doing the same for its students.

Hamilton High School opened a mindfulness room on its campus last year, offering a place for students to decompress from the demands and stresses of adolescence.

Now Hull Elementary School has a similar room, where younger students can practice techniques to make them more aware of and better manage their thoughts and feelings.

“Our goal is to provide strategies for kids using mindfulness at a younger age,” said Debbie Chamberlain, a Hull second-grade teacher.

She said almost all of Hull’s classrooms teach mindfulness strategies, such as breathing exercises, meditation sessions, or spending a few silent minutes in a “calm corner.”

In addition to relaxation techniques, educators teach students about gratitude, empathy and kindness.

The goal is not to have students always be happy and serene, Chamberlain said, but rather to enable kids to identify their emotions without any negative pre-judgment.

“It’s just being present in the moment,” she added. “It’s just being okay with whatever that present moment is without judgment.”

If students are nervous before taking a test, Chamberlain said their teacher can have them to the mindfulness room beforehand to ease their minds.

Mindfulness has become a popular buzz word in education all across Arizona in recent years.

The Tempe Union High School District announced this year it was opening mindfulness rooms at seven of its campuses.

A special education teacher in Coolidge uses meditation to improve student behavior.

Three high schools in Chandler Unified School District currently have mindfulness programs and a fourth is in the process of implementation.

Educators claim there’s emerging research-based evidence to prove that having a space for mindfulness in schools can have positive academic outcomes.

A 2016 study published in Frontiers in Psychology concluded that mindful strategies create more opportunities for students to exercise creativity and critical thinking.

When Chamberlain first started teaching 17 years ago, she said mindfulness was not a term regularly used in education.

But the increasing presence of social media in today’s culture has created a need for young people to escape.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of five children report having a mental, emotional, or behavioral condition. Only about 20 percent of these children end up receiving specialized care.

Rajani Rastogi, a social worker for Hamilton High School, said she noticed several students struggling with mental health issues a couple of years ago.

Since July 2017, at least 38 teens in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Queen Creek have taken their lives. Among them was Chandler High School’s Class of 2018 valedictorian.

Young people are constantly distracted by their phones and not taking time to unplug, Rastogi said. She did some research, found a room on campus to put in some bean bag chairs, and began inviting students.

She said Hamilton students were excited to come to the room for 20-minute sessions after school or during lunch.

“They say they feel relaxed as soon as they enter the room,” she said. “They feel calm and feel they need that time to breathe and meditate.”

Rastogi worked with Chamberlain to introduce mindfulness at Hull Elementary and has been inviting administrators from other school districts to visit. She said they hope to continue introducing these concepts to more schools in the district.

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