A program that started at the onset of the pandemic has gotten positive feedback all around, the principal says.
Mindfulness is on the minds of teachers and students at Cape Elizabeth Middle School and a program now in its second year has also included parents and caregivers.
The school has been hosting a weekly series, “Mindfulness for Parents & Caregivers,” which will continue through Feb. 15.
“Anyone can come and learn sort of the basics of how mindfulness works and ways that you could use it in your parenting or relating to young people,” said Cape Elizabeth Middle School Mindfulness Director Erica Marcus. “Anyone who is a parent or caregiver or working with young people can come and explore their parenting through the lens of mindfulness.”
Mindfulness is a mental health strategy used to ground oneself and focus on the present moment rather than stressing over the past or future. It is commonly practiced through activities such as yoga and meditation.
The middle school’s mindfulness program started in 2020.
“It really came about during COVID,” said Troy Eastman, the school’s principal. “The timing was good timing to support our students’ social, emotional needs and learning.”
Marcus emphasizes that point.
“It’s interesting to think about how this work corresponds to this moment in time,” she said. “A lot of students are carrying stress and anxiety in this moment.”
Eastman said he has received positive feedback from students, staff and parents.
The program is designed to have a long-lasting effect, Eastman said, and the goal is to implement it district-wide.
“It’s really about increasing the mental-health toolbox for our students, and not really a program where they take it and forget about it,” he said. “Building the strategies in them to help them moving forward, and hopefully skills they’ll take with them to high school, college, and whatever they do after.”
This year, Marcus offered three days of training for staff before the school year began so teachers could implement mindfulness strategies and activities in the classroom.
Students have created an “Embrace Your Weirdness” bulletin board in a school hallway, for example, and perform random acts of kindness, such as placing inspirational messages on their peers’ lockers.
“We started with teachers who had a natural interest in including some mindfulness strategies within their classrooms and for themselves personally,” said Eastman. “That number has grown slowly over the last couple years, and the number of staff that are taking part in it.”
Fifth and sixth graders receive semester-long courses.
“There’s a sixth-grade team of ‘mindfulness ambassadors,’” Marcus said. “They’re working on getting morning announcements up and running where they do little mindful moments during announcements.”
There is also a group of students working on creating a “mindful corner” in the school’s learning center where they can go, take a break if needed, and have access to different mindfulness resources, Marcus said. She also hosts after-school yoga and mindfulness sessions.
“In seventh grade this year, we’ve been exploring mindful technology use,” she said. “Really bringing that self-awareness to how our technology affects us.”
The topic of mindfulness and technology ties into Marcus’ new book, “Attention Hijacked: Using Mindfulness to Reclaim your Brain from Tech,” which is coming out May 3.
The book, she said, focuses on “what we appreciate about our technology” and tech companies’ intentions of “manipulating you to stay on longer.”