More often than not, when we think about the success of our children during the first 18 years of their life, we turn to their academic achievements. We tend to lose sight of the fact that our purpose as parents is to nurture capable, thoughtful, kind, secure and independent citizens of a greater society. Instead we look to API or SAT scores, the number of AP courses on the schedule or even individual project grades to assess success.
But are we doing our children a disservice by neglecting the importance of mental health and wellbeing? Anxiety and stress are common threads among students today, and equipping them with key social and emotional skills at an early age will lead to smarter, healthier and happier lives well into the future. More and more schools, and even public service organizations, are realizing that embracing the development of these tools is essential now more than ever.
For many years now the elementary schools within our district have incorporated character development programs into the core practices on campus. From student driven ambassador and buddy programs to awards for citizenship, sportsmanship and other pillars of character, our youngest students have been introduced to the positive aspects of being a caring part of the school community. Based on the results of the MBEF survey in 2014, our community wants an even greater focus on the development of character in elementary, middle and high school as well.
MBUSD recognizes this need and has turned to the proven work of MindUP to bring these skills to our own students. MindUP is an evidence-based social and emotional literacy curriculum that strives to unlock the true potential of each student through education of both the heart and mind. Neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and educators worked together to create MindUP to help children understand how their brain works and how their thoughts and feelings ultimately affect their behavior. The MindUP program has four goals: to foster mindful focused awareness; to increase positive human qualities, such as empathy, perspective-taking, helpfulness and kindness; to increase optimism and the sense of well-being, while gaining resiliency traits; and to foster a cohesive, caring classroom climate. When implemented by classroom teachers, and incorporated into our academic programs, the MindUP lessons (15 total) will help our students better engage in learning, limit their distractions, self-regulate their behavior and improve their focus and resiliency training. The MindUP curriculum is supported by the latest scientific research in the fields of cognitive neuroscience, social emotional learning, mindfulness education, and positive psychology. Each lesson teaches students about their brain (anatomy and function), and how they can positively influence their own development. Along with the classroom lessons, there is a short, three times a day practice of calming the mind through “brain breaks”, or focused breathing and listening exercises.
While these may seem like lofty goals, MindUP has a proven track record, serving thousands of students on a global level. Better yet, 100% of teachers who use MindUP agree that they can more easily manage the classroom, maintain an environment conducive to student learning that, in turn, improves student academic outcomes dramatically. MindUP lessons align with the Common Core standards and support improved academic performance while enhancing perspective taking, empathy and kindness. The resulting positive behaviors have led to lower drug and alcohol usage rates, lower dropout rates, a decrease in stress and classroom anxiety, improvements in peer-to-peer conflict resolutions, and academic success.
Although the current approved plan is to implement MindUP in grades K-5, support for bringing it to MBMS and even Mira Costa is apparent. Over 75 parents, teachers and administrators attended the information session led by Dr. Maria Hersey, the Director of Education & Training for MindUP in the United States, held last month. Superintendent Mike Matthews was notably impressed by the out pouring of support at the meeting, indicating that perhaps the program will be expanded once successfully implemented at the elementary level. Dr. Hersey agreed that the preferred roll out schedule is to start with the youngest students when dealing with a district of our size. There is some concern about how teachers and administrators will have the capacity to implement yet another program into their busy day. Dr. Hersey assures us that once teachers learn and embrace the techniques, MindUp increases efficiency in the classroom and daily schedule, just as it will the lives of students.
MBUSD Elementary teachers will begin MindUP training towards the end of this school year with the anticipation that implementation will begin for the 2015/2016 school year. If you would like to learn how to create mindful awareness in your own household, check out “Ten Mindful Minutes” for the tools to shape that child’s brain for a lifetime of resilience and happiness. The Beach Cities Health District also offers a free mindfulness workshop presented by Gloria Kalmer of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. To learn more about the workshop and how mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, depression and stress visit the Beach Cities Health District. MBEF also plans to host parent training sessions on MindUp in the Fall. As we all become more aware of the necessary skills, we will all be more mindful of how to live happier, healthier lives.