Mindfulness Leads to Success & Happiness in School

Andrea McGrath, Principal, Lauren Badolato, School Adjustment Counselor & William Foss, School Adjustment Counselor, The John R. Briggs School, Ashburnham

mcgrath3The John R. Briggs School in Ashburnham has always looked at the “whole student” and how the staff can support their students’ social, emotional, behavioral and academic growth.  It is the only elementary school in Ashburnham but it is a part of the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School district.  Several district-wide programs that specifically target students’ emotional, mental health and behavioral needs are housed at the Briggs School.  Some of these students face daily challenges that contribute to a high level of stress, anxiety and/or anger management issues so the school adjustment counselors, Lauren Badolato and Bill Foss, focused on addressing these issues to allow these students more success and happiness at school.

mcgrath1Ms. Badolato and Mr. Foss saw increasing levels of stress among students and teachers, focus and attention issues, and emotional and behavioral dysregulation that impact the learning environment.  They are often approached by parents and teachers for ideas/strategies to help children with emotional and behavioral regulation. Evidence has demonstrated that a technique called Mindfulness can improve these conditions. The practice of mindfulness offers an opportunity for evidence-based tools to be implemented at home or in classrooms.

Both Ms. Badolato and Mr. Foss have had personal experience with the benefits of mindfulness-based practices and have the interest and passion to share them with the students they serve. Several years ago they were trained by the Mindful Schools organization (www.mindfulschools.org) that focuses on how to bring these practices to the school setting.

The Mindful Schools curriculum introduces students to a unique method of learning topicsmcgrath2 such as how to pay attention, manage stress, and regulate thought/emotion/body sensations. Moreover, these concepts are being presented during a critical time of student development. A regulated student is more present and engaged in the learning environment, which in turn leads to academic success. Their vision was to increase exposure to students at Briggs School on an individual, small group, classroom, and school-wide level.

Ms. Badolato and Mr. Foss began teaching this to students as part of their weekly social-emotional group instruction. Soon after, they piloted the curriculum in a fourth grade classroom. The following year, Mrs. McGrath approached the counselors with the idea to bring the curriculum to the third, fourth and fifth grade students.

One of the John R. Briggs School Improvement Plan goals addressed the concept of Mindfulness implementation school-wide and it  aligned with Ms. Badolato and Mr. Foss’ vision so they agreed to give it a try. At first, the counselors were a bit intimidated by the prospect of teaching these skills to a group of 80-100 children at once, but they had a vision of someday implementing this on a school wide level and this was their chance to do it.

It took a lot of planning, preparation, and full investment from the teachers. Utilizing the Mindful Schools format, Ms. Badolato and Mr. Foss facilitated the group two times weekly for 8 weeks. Feedback gathered at the conclusion of the group from teachers and students indicated that it was a positive experience with skills learned that they would continue to cultivate in their individual classrooms.

After observing and hearing how the students were utilizing the practice in their everyday lives, Ms. Badolato and Mr. Foss decided to offer a Monday morning Mindfulness Club to continue the practice and help student’s transition into the start of each school week. Ms. Badolato and Mr. Foss feel encouraged by the results and are excited to continue sharing the practice of mindfulness throughout the school. The ultimate goal would be for all students and staff to become familiar with the concepts and practice of mindfulness in the interest of creating a healthier and less stressed school environment.

Some Briggs’ parents have shared their personal insight into the mindfulness strategies that their children have learned and utilized in their lives outside of school.  Their children are using these techniques while playing in organized sports, interacting with their siblings and handling disappointment.  As mindfulness becomes more of a habit amongst the students, they will be able to face challenges and unexpected events in amore focused and clear manner that allows them to remained relaxed and successful throughout the day.

The John R. Briggs School recognizes the importance of the students being happy, content and relaxed.  The steady implementation of mindfulness program amongst the students and staff will allow for the creation of a school culture and educational climate where everyone is actively engaged in their learning, recognize the importance of handling stress and being present in the moment.

Andrea McGrath has worked at the John R. Briggs School for 19 years.  She first started as a second grade teacher then transitioned to assistant principal and now is the principal.  If you have questions about the John R. Briggs mindfulness program please contact her amcgrath@awrsd.org

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues.











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