Mindfulness Education in Action at F.A. March Elementary
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
Every elementary school has felt the intense effects of COVID-19—from the difficulties of remote schooling and the uncertainties of hybrid remote models, to the challenges of wearing masks, quarantines, and distancing from one another. F.A. March Elementary School in Easton is no exception.
“A lot of kids have difficult stories from the pandemic period, and we have a growing need for mental health providers,” said March Elementary School principal Mr. Daniel Gonzalez.
When Mr. Gonzalez heard buzz about Shanthi Project from teachers at Paxinosa Elementary, it piqued his interest. He had hopes that maybe Shanthi could help students (and teachers) at March Elementary with some of the 2021/2022 school year’s stressors—such as difficulties with regulating or expressing feelings and a lack of endurance to sit or focus on a task for a period of time.
“For our second graders, this is the closest they’ve ever had to a normal school year… though it wasn’t entirely normal because there are still restrictions. A lot of kids never saw their teacher’s faces until a couple of months ago,” he said.
March Elementary second grade teacher Mrs. Rachel Gutshall was excited about mindfulness lessons. “My hope was for the kiddos to learn how to become more self-aware of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations,” she says. “We experience so many feelings and thoughts throughout the day, and they change frequently. If the kids are able to recognize those thoughts and feelings, they are able manage and deal with their current state of being.”
Shanthi Project teacher Jo-Ann Devereaux found March Elementary teachers welcoming, supportive and willing to incorporate mindfulness into their daily routines. Some teachers were amazed at how even the most distracted students were receptive to her 20-minute lessons. “The kids were always excited to see her walk through the door!” said Mrs. Gutshall.
Miss Jo-Ann’s lessons included mindful listening, observing sounds in the environment, breathing practices like balloon breath, and other anchors, along with gratitude practices, gentle and fun movements, sending kind thoughts to others, and even dealing with big emotions.
“If I’m annoyed by my brother or angry, I do the breathing exercises,” said March Elementary third grader Alec Prentice. “It helps me get away from those feelings.”
“I’m in classrooms every day and I can hear the teachers putting it into practice,” said Mr. Gonzalez. As principal and disciplinarian, he has been observing that sometimes the kids who are sent to his office just need breaks more than discipline. Sometimes they just want to talk.
“When stress is high, and there’s a lot going on, sometimes kids go to a negative outlet or go down a road that they shouldn’t,” he says. “This [mindful habits] gives them another way to cope with things, pause, and self-reflect. In that regard, there are some kids who did not necessarily have self-regulation skills prior, who are learning about it. That can be uncomfortable because there’s a lot of self-reflection in that. But they are picking up on it.”
Mrs. Gutshall uses the mindful breathing strategies Miss Jo-Ann taught to help regulate kids who are upset or struggling.
“We do a lot of the breathing techniques when we transition between activities such as coming in from recess, after coming back from lunch, after working in partners and going back to whole group instruction,” she said. “I also see kiddos doing it unprompted on their own when they are lost, unfocused, or feeling anxiety. Some kids even recognize when I'm struggling or overwhelmed and will say, ‘Mrs. Gutshall I just sent you some kind thoughts!’ ”
Shanthi continues to provide March Elementary teachers short mindfulness sessions once a week over Zoom for support. Mrs. Gutshall now does 5- or 10-minute meditations at home in the evenings as a way to find a sense of calm, allow time to reflect, and decompress.
“It was my great pleasure serving mindful messages to the magnificent staff and students at March School,” said Miss Jo-Ann. “I am honored to represent Shanthi Project.”