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Mindfulness Introduced Into PE Curriculum At MJSHS

Students practicing mindfulness

Nikki Miller doesn’t hesitate when asked why the Marion Central School District invited mindfulness expert Erica Ebert to work with the physical education classes this month.

“We saw a need,”Miller said.

The District didn’t just see a need, it addressed one.

While social-emotional learning is taught to all elementary students through the Second Step program, there was a gap at the junior-senior high school level.

Students and staff recognized this and, with stress levels being elevated during the pandemic, arrangements were made to bring Ebert, the staff development trainer for social and emotional learning and mindfulness for Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, to Marion.

“We looked into the specifics of how we could better meet the social-emotional needs of our junior-senior high school students,” Miller said. “Mindfulness fit nicely into PE because social-emotional learning is a part of the new state standards for physical education.

“Through Erica, we are providing an instructional coaching model with our middle school-high school physical education teachers to embed social-emotional learning.  New studies suggest that mindfulness education can help reduce the negative effects of stress. By learning and practicing to stop and take a moment to pause, it reduces stress and ultimately improves learning.”

Ebert, who is in her first year at W-FL BOCES after many years as a mindfulness coach and English teacher in the Webster Central School District, uses a process called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

“It’s about connecting to yourself and connecting with others,” Ebert said. “Just becoming self-aware so that you can connect with yourself and with others.”

Ebert starts her classes by having students write their answers to questions about mindfulness on note cards. She reviews the questions (such as “What is neuroplasticity?”) and explains the concepts of mindfulness.

“There are ways to manage our stress,” Ebert said. “So much of our stress comes from our thoughts and how they affect us. Mindfulness is a way to take a person away from those thoughts.” 

The students also take time to relax and clear their minds before sharing positive thoughts about themselves  in small group activities. It does not take long for looks of apprehension to turn to smiles.

“It was different than what I expected,” Janet Jaramillo, a junior at Marion, said shortly after finishing a class with Ebert. “I liked laying on the ground and relaxing and also telling people what I liked and what makes me happy.”

Marion’s physical education teachers are already seeing results. Lori DeLyser, who is also the District’s athletic director, asked her students in a recent class if they were using the mindfulness concepts. Several raised their hands to indicate they were.

“The whole concept of mindfulness teaches people about being in touch with their thoughts and emotions,” DeLyser said. “Hopefully it will help the students to have less stress and to think clearer.”

While most of Ebert’s time is spent working with adults in professional development settings, she enjoyed working with students and staff to set a foundation for more social-emotional learning.

“It’s awesome,” said Miller, who is also a certified health teacher and has been in previous professional development sessions with Ebert. “Part of Erica’s job is being a coach that works with staff to share mindfulness concepts and practices. We decided to roll this out and take it all in.”