Tabernacle School District implements mindfulness into curriculum

Tabernacle School District implements mindfulness into curriculum

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The Tabernacle School District is working on students becoming more mindful of themselves, each other and their surroundings.

A presentation on a Mindful School Curriculum was made to the Board of Education for implementation at the Tabernacle Elementary School for the 2016–2017 academic year. For the Mindful Schools Curriculum Project, the school would be using mindfulness practices to create a less stressful and more meaningful environment for students. The board unanimously approved the project.

Last year, the Mindful School Curriculum was piloted in one kindergarten, first-grade and third-grade classroom over an approximate 16-day period. Tabernacle Elementary School Principal Gerald Paterson and Dr. Heidi Freeman, a parent and former board member, trained in the program through Mindful Schools, spoke on mindfulness to the board and the public.

“Across the board, I noticed a lot of testing anxiety and a lot of stress. We were looking for (a way to) deal with anxiety and daily stress at school,” Paterson said.

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally, according to Jon Kabat Zin, a professor and founder of the Center for Mindfulness. This can be to yourself, to others and to your environment with your thoughts and emotions. The program focuses on paying attention to different things each week and different ways of paying attention.

“It’s not something that you’re born with… it is a collection of skills, and we can practice them,” Freeman said. “That is what the program is all about.”

Some of the benefits include the reduction of stress, depression and anxiety, improvement in emotions and emotional responses, improved attention, better memory and health, better impulse controls, and more empathy and compassion.

Mindfulness practice builds self-awareness, regulation of attention and regulation of emotion, according to Freeman. Those three things, she said, are key to the regulation of mental health and social interactions.

Freeman then ran the public and board through a demonstration using Mindful Posture — being aware of how you sit and hopefully sitting with good posture — and listening to how long a bell rang before the sound disappeared, and finishing by taking a mindful breath. The idea of the lesson was to listen for sounds that normally one would not notice or hear.

The district’s plan is to implement the programs in counseling sessions and early morning meeting sessions. Freeman said that during the pilot program, it took about 10 minutes of the day and is designed to take as little instruction time as possible. The idea is to do the Mindful Schools Curriculum Project twice a week, for eight weeks, making 16 lessons total, and then teachers or students can take over and use it as needed.

In other news:

• A 2015–2016 School Self Assessments for Determining Grades Under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act presentation was given. Each school met or exceeded expectations on the self-assessment.

Each school safety team is required to evaluate how the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act is implemented based on 41 pages and eight categories, said Christine Skinner of curriculum/instruction at the middle school. Those categories are HIB Programs, Approaches or Other Initiatives; Training on the BOE-approved HIB policy; Other Staff Instruction on HIB and Related Information and Skills; HIB Personnel; School-Level HIB Incident Reporting Procedure; HIB Investigation Procedure; and HIB Reporting. All categories are measurable and example documentation is required.

Both Tabernacle Elementary School and Kenneth R. Olson Middle School received a score of 69 out of 78 in total for the eight categories.

“This shows a lot of collaboration and consistency throughout the district,” Skinner said.

To continue to improve the scores, the district plans to continue Respect Week, Anti-Violence Week, Red Ribbon Week and Kindness Week activities, involve volunteers, parents, law enforcement and other community members in all HIB programs and training, and send staff members to classroom management/responsive classroom workshops.

Additionally, the middle school is having a program, “One School, One Book,” reading the book “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, about a student with cranial and facial abnormalities and how he is treated at school. Included is 365 days of Wonder, words to live by that will be shared with students.

• Both the Education Foundation of Tabernacle Township and math specialist Marc Miller were recognized for math flash cards, which were given to every classroom, first through fourth grade, and to every fourth-grade student to improve knowledge of math facts. According to Miller, pre- and post-testing of students showed growth and better retention of math facts. The education foundation gave a grant to Miller for the math flash cards.

• Tabernacle Elementary School and Kenneth R. Olson Middle School both achieved a Bronze Level New Jersey Sustainability Certification from Sustainable Jersey for Schools. Sustainable Jersey for Schools is a certification program for New Jersey public schools that want to go green, conserve resources and take steps to create a brighter future.