Students Practice Mindfulness

img_2631Maybe you’ve been hearing the term, “mindfulness” in conversations and been curious about its meaning and implications. You aren’t alone! Mindfulness is becoming an increasingly popular practice for people of all ages and the benefits are far-reaching and long-lasting.

Erika Betts, School Social Worker at Rosewood and Sandy Hill attended a conference on mindfulness in the fall of 2015 and “fell completely in love with the concept”. Since that time, Mrs Betts has read multiple books and attended additional conferences on the subject and recognizes the practical benefits. “What I love about it is that it addresses so many problems that we see in the classroom on a daily basis with students; difficulty focusing and paying attention, impulsive decision making, difficulty with emotional regulation including anxiety, anger, and low frustration tolerance”.

img_2627Electronics and technology have become so integral to our daily lives and there are various levels of consequences as a result. “In some cases kids are spending hours on these devises each day, and because of this, they are used to such a high level of stimulation and frequent gratification.  Then, once the devises are turned off, they become easily bored and irritable because “real life” can’t compete with that level of excitement.  Mindfulness helps to teach kids how to slow down and pay attention to small things, teaches them how to regulate their breathing, and also increases their problem solving skills, their ability to think critically, as well as to control their impulses.”

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-11-35-17-amBut what is mindfulness? Mrs. Betts explains it as creating a balance between your brain and body chemistry.   “Research tells us that when people [kids or adults] become emotionally heightened, the thinking portion of their brain actually shuts down, and the emotional part of their brain takes over.  That is when the “caveman instincts” of fight, flight, and/or freeze come into play.  In this state people tend to react quickly, without thinking through possible consequences that could occur.  What the repeated practice of mindfulness does is allows our body to calm more quickly when we are emotionally charged, in order for us to be able to think through best responses to stressful situations. “

Mrs Betts led two seminars for a handful of teachers at Rosewood and Sandy Hill and some of those teachers have begun incorporating mindfulness into their daily routines. One of those teachers is Luke VerBeek and he reports that after being invited to the seminar, and doing some of his own research as well, he decided it would be beneficial to his 6th grade students. “We [students and teachers] have so many expectations and extracurricular activities happening in our lives that keep us rushing from one activity to another.  Mindfulness has given us permission to stop, slow down, and only worry about being present.  It has allowed us to not worry about events in our lives that have happened in the past or that may happen in the future.

img_2632Taking time out of every day to practice intentional breathing, mindful body posture, and a quiet mind gives Mr. VerBeek’s students the chance to slow down in a very busy world. They have also taken the tools of mindfulness in the classroom to other aspects of their lives as well. “My students have used mindfulness beyond the allotted time we have dedicated in our classroom.  Many have mentioned how they have used it in their sporting events while shooting free throws or serving the volleyball.  One student even mentioned how it has helped her with her anxiety.  They use the breathing techniques we have worked on in class to calm them down and focus on the job at hand.  Mindfulness has allowed my students the freedom to slow down, if only for a few minutes every day.”

Mrs Betts says, “Mindfulness can also help us to clear our heads so we can just focus on one thing at a time instead of having our minds full of so many distractions all at once.  This not only helps us when our emotions take over, but it can help our abilities to listen to others [their teachers, their parents, etc], to organize our thoughts, while taking tests, while working with classmates, etc.”

If you’d like to try mindfulness at home you can check out the book, “10 Mindful Minutes” by Goldie Hawn. You can also watch this three minute video to learn more:

Finally, for an example of a practice for kids, we recommend the video below:

Thank you Mrs Betts, Mr VerBeek, and the many other amazing teachers in Jenison teaching their students the importance of mindfulness! We’re grateful for this knowledge and skill that will support us throughout our whole lives!

High School Students Join County Collaboration on Suicide Prevention!

c23ixoyxcaaovueOn January 23, Jenison High School Social Worker, Kris Faber, Superintendent, Tom TenBrink, Assistant Principal Rhonda Raab, Counselor Jenny Riha and seven Jenison High students joined other students from Ottawa County to talk about the realities of suicide and how to help prevent it.

The event (called the Ottawa County Suicide Prevention Summit) was on at Zeeland East High Sshool and it was a coordinated effort with OAISD with twelve districts in attendance.  The group spent the day collaborating with local districts to learn what efforts are being utilized to address mental health needs and suicide prevention.

c23rcdlvqaen73uThe Mental Health foundation of West Michigan was a co-sponsor for the day promoting the positive benefits of the Be Nice! program throughout West Michigan.  Ms. Faber adds, “We were also able to hear speaker Rick Chyme share his personal story and challenge everyone to “plant seeds” of kindness and love toward others as you never know how one might positively impact others.”  The team also had time as a JHS group to plan how we might impact our school specifically and work to diminish the stigma of mental health and seeking support.

In a 2013 Youth Assessment Survey of students in Ottawa County in grades 8, 10 and 12, that had seriously contemplated suicide, there was an alarmingly high rate of 16.7%.  “Many adolescents are experiencing increased incidents and greater severity of mental health needs [especially anxiety and depression].  The stigma attached to seeking treatment can, at times, exacerbate the issues. ” Thankfully, JHS is working towards providing help any way they can.

Students are hopeful to continue the conversation in district and develop some tangible ways to provide support for existing mental health needs, as well as prevention of suicide.  We are hopeful to create a culture of kindness toward others as well as a place where seeking support is seen as a strength.  Sharing existing resources with students was one way we are hoping to be helpful to our students immediately.

Students! If you, or someone you know, has thought about or talked about committing suicide, there are people who care about you and are willing to help! You can visit Ms Faber or talk to any of your teachers, administrators, staff, or counselors. You can also call the Ottawa County Crisis Helpline: 866-512-4357.

img_9812

c23rcdlvqaaigbd

[Photos courtesy of Kris Faber and @benicemi]