Home Mantua News A look inside J. Mason Tomlin School’s new mindfulness class

A look inside J. Mason Tomlin School’s new mindfulness class

In a time of growing national concerns over mental health, the school added a class that allows students to focus on mindfulness through meditation and yoga practices

In a dim-lit classroom at J. Mason Tomlin School, young students can be seen doing yoga poses and mindfulness exercises in front of a salt lamp and wind chimes with a screen in the background depicting sea animals swimming in the ocean on a constant video loop.

This year, as part of its Encore rotations – which include physical education, art, media, etc. – the school started a Social and Emotional Learning class, which aims to cultivate a caring, participatory and equitable learning environment and evidence-based practices that actively involve all students in their social, emotional and academic growth, according to its website.

“It was really part of our goal of educating the whole child. As a district, we were looking at kids who are stressed out, staff is stressed out, we’re trying to improve the school climate,” said J. Mason Tomlin’s mindfulness teacher Diane Bonagura.

One of the yoga poses students practice is the warrior position, which is considered a “power” pose. After the movements, when students were asked what they wanted to be a warrior for, one student said she wanted to be one for a better world. Another expressed that he wanted to be one for his sister, who was sick.

“That just almost proves how much is on these kids’ minds,” said Supervisor of Curriculum and Technology Theresa Labbree.

Students take a portion of the class to journal their thoughts and goals within the curriculum’s units, which are courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion.

The district’s approach to this class infuses the social and emotional learning program with the Choose Love Curriculum, a no-cost infant, toddler, and pre-k through 12th-grade SEL program that teaches educators and their students how to choose love in any circumstance and helps them become connected, resilient and empowered individuals.

The curriculum was created by Scarlett Lewis, the mother of Jesse Lewis who was killed, along with 19 classmates and six teachers, in his first-grade classroom during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.

When the school began the class, it set aside an empty room to be used for a mindfulness and movement area. Teachers would have to sign up on a schedule, including Bonagura and her special education students.

When the room became popular among staff and students, the school decided to expand it.

“The class seems so well received from not only the teachers, but the parents in the community,” said Labbree. “The students want to come here.”

The district’s decision to add mindfulness in their schools is part of a larger international discussion around mental health and over-stimulation in the younger generation.

In fact, in New Jersey, the state will make SEL programs a mandatory requirement in all public school programs by the next school year, according to the district.

“They’re checking Instagram, they’re checking Twitter, they’re on Facebook, they’re on Youtube, they’re on text messages, they’re on email. The amount of mental inputs that kids have to deal with is five times the amount that adults just one generation ago had to deal with,” said Superintendent Robert Fisicaro. “So we’re trying to support them.”

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