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Mindfulness methods in schools

Published: December 12, 2019
Pictured from left: Babette Kissam, psychiatry research assistant, Matt Peterson, principal of Holiday Hill Elementary School, and Allison Ventura, PhD, child and adolescent psychologist. View Larger Image

UF implements evidence-based mindfulness curriculum at Holiday Hill School.

Children today face more stressors in school and in their personal lives now than ever before. Students experience an increased pressure to excel in academics and maintain a strong reputation on social media, all while navigating adolescence. Educators have responded by rising to new tasks and responsibilities extending well beyond the typical classroom walls.

The American Psychological Association, or APA, reports children between the ages of 8 to 17 have many stressors and physical symptoms, much of which goes unnoticed by parents. As stress compounds, it becomes chronic and may contribute to psychological problems and physical conditions.

Allison Ventura, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, sought to address this growing issue through implementation of mindfulness-based interventions in schools. Leon L. Haley Jr., MD, MHSA, dean of College of Medicine – Jacksonville and CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, selected Ventura’s project for submission to the 2018-2019 grant program by the college and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

After receiving the necessary funding, Ventura partnered with Holiday Hill Elementary School, located in Jacksonville, to institute a mindfulness curriculum that supports students and staff alike. Holiday Hill was chosen because of the small and diverse population of students it serves through its Gifted and Academically Talented Magnet Program and the PRIDE Academy for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

Ventura analyzed available curriculum with proven, evidence-based results and chose to use the program MindUP. Based firmly in neuroscience, MindUP gives children the knowledge and tools they need to manage stress, regulate emotions and face today’s challenges with compassion, optimism and resilience.

“Research shows adolescents and teachers benefit greatly from mindfulness activities,” said Ventura. “MindUP focuses on acknowledging the senses, being kind to others and promoting optimism, which is beneficial in helping students control their emotions.”

Ventura provided all teachers with curriculum, materials and hands-on training, emphasizing how the brain and emotions work. She gave instruction on recommended breathing exercises and sustained continuous coaching throughout the year with staff.

Matt Peterson, principal of Holiday Hill, embraced the project and began leading mindful minutes each morning during the school announcements. His efforts included leading breathing exercises and reminding students to have positive energy, from their nose to their toes.

Peterson follows the adage from Benjamin Franklin, often pointing out that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The results Peterson witnessed in the past year is a testament to the value of mindfulness for teachers and students. Teachers reported a calmer classroom culture and more cooperation among students.

Peterson firmly supports the growth of the MindUP curriculum, and it’s his hope more schools will adopt it or a similar program.

“The program requires an investment and every child deserves that,” said Peterson. “MindUP creates a common language, creates consistency with routines and provides problem-solving strategies.”

In evaluation, 93% of the teachers felt positive to very positive about the program and 97% reported the program had a positive effect on the students in their class, such as a decrease in bullying. Students also reported feeling happier, more relaxed and were more likely to get along with peers according to post-program surveys by Ventura’s team.

Peterson plans to extend the positive effects of the program beyond the classroom by modeling breathing techniques before parent-teacher association meetings, school advisory council meetings and the school’s parent nights. His goal is to see the MindUP tools used in school and at home by students and their families.

Due to positive qualitative and quantitative outcomes, the department has dedicated long-term funding to continue the work with Duval County Public Schools. The UF Center for Data Solutions will also be seeking further resources and funding to extend the project. Ventura plans to publish the results in an effort to support other schools looking to implement similar programs.

“We’re continuing to partner with Holiday Hill to learn about the long-term impact of school-based mindfulness initiatives,” said Ventura. “As we monitor outcomes, we will apply those findings to implementation methods in other schools.”

Pictured from left: Babette Kissam, psychiatry research assistant, Matt Peterson, principal of Holiday Hill Elementary School, and Allison Ventura, PhD, child and adolescent psychologist.

For more information, please contact:
UF Health Media Relations