Awareness: Teacher, counselor facilitate mindfulness practices for their students at local schools | TheUnion.com

Awareness: Teacher, counselor facilitate mindfulness practices for their students at local schools

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

Positive visualizations, awareness of breath and soothing musical tones.

This is not the scene of a yoga studio. Rather, it’s a classroom.

Saralyn Crossen, the alternative education counselor at Earle Jamieson Educational Options, has been facilitating mindfulness exercises for her students at the beginning of each school day for the past two years.

“Mindfulness is such an ancient practice of bringing non-judgemental awareness to the moment,” said Crossen.

Dennis Desmond, a teacher of eight years at the Sugarloaf Mountain Juvenile Hall Program, found the practice useful as well. He started facilitating his students through mindfulness every day about two years ago after seeing its affects on Crossen’s students.

“It’s about allowing yourself to be in the present moment,” he said, “to gently and non-judgmentally let go of thoughts of the past and the future.”

IN PRACTICE

Crossen leads students through mindfulness exercises while light background music echoes around the room, a projector screen with images of flowers hangs in the back.

“Did you bring any mindfulness to eating?” she asked three students attending summer school. One student replies “No,” after which Crossen appreciates his honesty.

The counselor has been leveraging the technique since her days co-piloting a similar program at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility in 2014. For students “trying to live in a sober world,” she said, it can help slow things down, allowing students to react more positively to their environment.

“I really believe the more we are in the present moment and really aware of our reactions and responses to stimuli around us,” she said, “we’re able to make more positive choices and healthy choices and thoughtful choices.”

Earle Jamieson Educational Options is not a school of choice, but, rather, a community school, said Crossen. A student is sent there generally for one of two reasons: expulsion or probation referral. It holds a maximum of 20 students over a school year, according to Scott Lay, Nevada County superintendent of schools.

The program is meant to be a space for rehabilitation and stability, said Crossen. She encourages students to apply mindfulness outside of school in front of adults like judges, foster care parents and guardians.

A MINDFUL MOMENT?

Since at least 2015, there’s been excitement in schools across the country about practicing mindfulness, according to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal. One 2009 study by the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found mindfulness participation “significantly reduced self-reported anxiety, depressive and somatization symptoms, and improved self-esteem and sleep quality.”

But for its growing popularity, much research is still unknown about the effects of mindfulness. Currently, it’s not mandated by policy in Nevada County schools.

“It’s really driven by teachers who see its (effectiveness),” said Lay.

There are a variety of levels of student engagement with the practice, said Desmond, especially for a population generally stressed, anxious and uncertain of the future. But at least a few students enjoy the practice, frequently implementing its lessons beyond the classroom walls.

Cody Ketchum, a sophomore at Earle Jamieson, was unaware of mindfulness before attending the program. He now uses it daily.

“I need to be aware of what I am doing so I don’t mess up,” said Ketchum. “We all want to be our best. Mindfulness has helped me more than I ever thought it could.”

Leah Aragon, a freshmen at Earle Jamieson, has had a similar experience.

“It’s good to do it every morning,” she said. “It helps calm you down and get ready for the day. Other schools don’t have it so you just go to school in whatever mood you are in.”

While the results are difficult to interpret, according to Desmond, both he and Crossen believe it at least helps guide students in a better direction.

“Mindfulness,” said Crossen, “is a gift to plant some seeds.”

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at scorey@theunion.com.


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