Washington Township teachers direct BOE retreat on positive psychology

Retreat was hosted on Aug. 24

Wedgwood special education teacher Maria Petruzzelli poses by a PowerPoint that she and her mentor, Laurie Sibilia, presented during a recent retreat with the Board of Education.

At one point, you could have heard a pin drop in the room, which is exactly the effect that veteran Washington Township High School ESL teacher Laurie Sibilia and first-year Wedgwood Elementary special education teacher Maria Petruzzelli had hoped for. Superintendent of Schools Joe Bollendorf and members of the Board of Education were actively involved in yoga and other mindfulness exercises, including focused breathing exercises, during a retreat hosted on Aug. 24. The two and one-half hour session was organized by Sibilia and Petruzzelli at the request of Board of Education president Ginny Murphy.

“We explored Focused Attention Practices including movement, breath work and brief meditations,” Sibilia said. “We also presented research that documented the positive effects of these practices and shared ways to implement hands-on opportunities for positive psychology in classrooms throughout the district.”

“Mindfulness is using all five senses to be present in the moment,” Petruzzelli said. “Our intention was to engage the group and to provide them with tools to reduce stress, to access their strengths and use them to their advantage, and to expose them to the science behind positive psychology and its power. They were all active and very receptive.”

The pair brought myriad issues before the group, including one of the primary ironies of modern education; that is, we ask students to “pay attention” dozens of times a day, yet we never teach them how. High demands and expectations, stress, frustration and exhaustion all deny students the ability to be children. These factors, they explained, are impacting and changing the way children’s brains are developing. Although students’ brains have adapted to handle stressful situations, they lack the skills needed for educational success and emotional regulation. This is most important as schools increasingly are appointed to manage students’ social and emotional needs because these needs are impacting their academic abilities.

“We are excited about the work Mrs. Sibilia and Ms. Petruzzelli are doing,” Bollendorf said. “The presentation was very impactful, and I believe it has tremendous potential as an initiative for the district. We are looking forward to continued work in this area.”