Students went into the new school year with a lot of catching up to do cognitively, socially, emotionally—and even physically—following the rise of health and economic stressors exacerbated by the pandemic. They are still reeling from years of pandemic loss and disruption. Where to even begin?
Many prominent education researchers are urging schools to take a holistic approach to recovery, putting
as great an emphasis on social and emotional wellbeing as on test scores. This is because students who are distracted by fears for their safety and other challenges affecting wellbeing can find it difficult to learn.
Andrew Jordan Nance agrees. He created Mindful Arts San Francisco because he saw the need to address
children’s mental health—even before the pandemic—with activities that young students could access and use when it came to processing the big feelings that arise in high-stress situations in and out of the classroom. He designed a 21-week curriculum using theater, storytelling, art, and movement, that make these skills accessible and fun for young practitioners. The trauma-informed curriculum equips students with regulation and communication tools that are critical to navigating challenges that could potentially derail a student’s success and sense of security in the classroom.
“Mindfulness helps you realize you’re safe,” says Nance. “You’re taking those breaths, realizing what your emotional state is, so you can really be present to focus and do your best.”
Thanks to a partnership with the Ed Fund and hundreds of volunteers in 38 schools, 4,000 students have
benefitted since the program was founded in 2014.
When Marg Tobias isn’t working as a lawyer, she’s bringing mindfulness training into Ms. Roger’s kindergarten classroom. Marg incorporates mindful movement activities in her sessions, great for kids with the wiggles. “Learning to move and feel our bodies is so important,” she says. “I often share with the students that there is no right or wrong way to practice. And the good news is that you can start now and start again tomorrow.” Read the full interview with Marg here.
Jeremy Hilinski, Principal at Bret Harte Elementary, remarks that he’s seen an extraordinary schoolwide transformation through implementing the Ed Fund’s Mindful Arts program. He said, “The transformation that we’ve seen [at Bret Harte], since implementing Mindfulness, has been extraordinary. In addition to all of the benefits for students, our teachers reap the rewards of the program. What I’ve noticed is an enhanced positive work culture, a great deal of community, kindness, and a sense of calm that has led us through some tough times. I cannot say enough how much I support Mindfulness in schools. It’s truly transformative.”
Eli Brown-Stevenson is a Mindfulness volunteer at Guadalupe Elementary. Teaching mindfulness is the highlight of his week, he says. He begins by leading students in a minute of slow breathing with a breathing ball, a colorful toy that he holds in front of his chest, gently expanding and contracting it as he breathes. “The vibe is completed settled when we finish,” Eli says.
If anything has been learned on the path of post-pandemic recovery, it has been that academic progress comes when it goes hand-in-hand with physical, social, and mental wellbeing. Programs like Mindful Arts are critical to classrooms where students realize their power to self-regulate, self-advocate, and are equipped to face challenges as well opportunities, all of which are invaluable life skills that
they can carry into adulthood.
In the 2021-22 school year, 935 students learned mindfulness practices to support their mental wellbeing from 55 Ed Fund mindfulness volunteers. 38 schools received mental wellness support.
This story was originally published in the 2021-22 Ed Fund Annual Report.
With just one hour a week, the SF Ed Fund’s incredible mindfulness volunteers help bring mindfulness and social-emotional learning to public school classrooms. Learning to understand emotions and how to manage them with skill is one of the most important lessons any human being can learn. Based on Andrew Nance’s Mindful Arts in the Classroom curriculum, our volunteers teach elementary school students various techniques to help them cultivate the skill of present-moment awareness. If you’re interested in becoming a mindfulness volunteer, learn more here.