From Trauma to Peace: Mindfulness Program at Willard Middle School

Posted on March 22nd 2018 in Grants, Interviews

Once a week at Willard Middle School, there’s an unexpected sight of a classroom full of students sitting still with their eyes closed. With the support of our Strategic Impact Grant, Willard Middle School has implemented a weekly Dynamic Mindfulness program where students engage in mindful ABCs (Actions, Behaviors, and Centering) during their Advisory period. The 15-minute program involves grounding activities from listening to a bell until the last note dissipates to mindfully stretching one’s body while paying attention to one’s breathing and awareness.

When I sat down with Corey Cohen, Willard school counselor, what struck me was how she used the phrase “trauma-informed practice” as a reasoning behind implementing mindfulness. She described trauma as coming from a range of external factors, including the difficulty of navigating everyday life as a student coming from a disadvantaged background. For these reasons, many students experience trauma in the form of chronic stress.

Dynamic Mindfulness is a secular program that advocates that mindfulness is for “anybody, anytime”. Dynamic Mindfulness has been field-tested with thousands of educators, mental health professionals and others and has been shown to positively impact hundreds of thousands of students. It is one of four mindfulness programs from around the world that meets the stringent research criteria for evidence-based practice set by the national Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

The journey to the present moment began last summer when our Strategic Impact Grant helped a team of Willard educators, counselors and administrators attend a two-day Dynamic Mindfulness training at the Niroga Institute. The first day of the training focused on cultivating a personal mindfulness practice, which is invaluable for those working in schools to balance giving care with self-care. The first day also shared in-depth neuroscience research behind why Dynamic Mindfulness works.

The second day involved using Dynamic Mindfulness as a tool that can enhance stress-resilience, attention, self-control and emotion regulation in children, adolescents and adults. Ms. Cohen describes the training as being “incredibly interactive and hands-on with prompts and scripts along with incorporating a wealth of research to demonstrate the effectiveness of mindfulness in schools.”

When asked about the most surprising effect of the program, Ms. Cohen responded, “I had assumed that our middle school students would be resistant to mindfulness but they were surprisingly open and receptive. One student even told me that the mindfulness program was his favorite moment of the day!” Ms. Cohen explained that she sees mindfulness permeating into all subjects as teachers or students lead mindfulness activities to transition from one class or activity into another. She described a school assembly the other day where an administrator encouraged mindful stretching of the body whenever students needed it.

Overall, Ms. Cohen reflected that “Dynamic Mindfulness has created an environment that has slowed down and become less stressful. It has gifted both staff and students with another tool to manage stress.”