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Making it Mindful
01/17/2019

This year at Rogers Academy, the start of the school day looks a little bit different than it has in the past. Instead of students gathering in their individual classrooms, everyone gathers together in either the gym or the cafeteria, depending on their grade level, for a morning meeting. According to Valerie Trevino, school counselor, bringing all of the students together not only helps build community, but it gives the students the opportunity to practice a new technique that has become a daily practice at the school: mindfulness.

“We encourage students to be mindful to help them throughout the day when they are feeling stressed or upset and to use it as a strategy to calm down,” said Trevino, who has been with SAISD for seven years. “I have definitely seen a difference since we started practicing mindfulness in our morning meetings and applying other social-emotional learning strategies in our classrooms. I am not getting so many students referred to my office this year for little things. Because we have implemented these tactics, students can now just self-regulate themselves.”

At a recent morning meeting, Trevino led a breathing exercise, called ‘bubble breathing.’ All students and staff alike brought their hands to their heads and took a few deep breaths in, raising their hands above their heads to create a ‘bubble’ with each breath in. 

“And the kids aren’t just going through the motions,” said Rogers’ Principal Robby Wilson. “Not only are we doing these exercises, we are explaining to them why we are doing them and how they can use them when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed.”

An exercise like breathing may seem like a little thing, but Wilson believes tactics like this and other social-emotional learning strategies can make a big difference in his students’ lives.

“A lot of times we expect the kids to come in and meet certain expectations, and if they don’t, it is dealt with in a punitive way,” said Wilson. “But we want to use restorative practices like social-emotional learning so kids understand if they did something wrong and what emotions set that off. We give them the steps they can take to calm themselves to make better choices.”

Wilson says that as students become accustomed to mindful practices, they are able to apply the techniques to every aspect of their life, in school and out.

When Wilson came to Rogers this past fall, he made social-emotional learning a priority, implementing the morning meetings as well as giving each classroom 20 minutes daily dedicated to social-emotional learning. In one classroom, second-grade dual language teacher Cecilia Gonzalez gathers her students together in a circle in a comfy corner of the room and has them sit cross-legged on a colorful rug. Gonzalez asks the group a question, and then asks the students to talk briefly with their ‘buddy.’ This may seem like a typical activity for an elementary classroom, but Gonzalez applies a variety of strategies that make this time much more impactful than a typical second-grade sharing circle.

“We buddy up for the week and by using this system, kids who wouldn’t normally interact get a chance to talk with unfamiliar classmates,” said Gonzalez. “This way they don’t stay in their little cliques; they get to branch out and know someone new. Since we have been doing this, the kids are kinder to each other and more willing to interact with each other.”

Throughout the conversation, Gonzalez gives each child a chance to share and encourages the other students to look at the speaker. Gonzalez makes connections between what her students say to other members of the group, giving the students a chance to see that they have common interests and experiences with their classmates. It is the seemingly little things like this that have helped build a strong community at Rogers.

“I notice that we are more of a team this year,” said Gonzalez. “Everybody helps everybody instead of some of the kids just helping some of the kids. It’s wonderful.”

In additional to Rogers, a number of schools across SAISD are exploring social-emotional learning strategies and a variety of social-emotional learning strategies are currently being assessed and piloted across the District.

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