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Students Relax, Become Aware With a Little Help from Goldie Hawn

 

By Jack Fichter

CAPE MAY — Students at Cape May Elementary School are learning relaxation and attention exercises called Mindfulness.
A proponent of Mindfulness is actress/ producer Goldie Hawn who has set up a foundation to sponsor the awareness education.
“Mindful focused awareness means being aware of your own mind. When you practice mindfulness, you cultivate more awareness and insight into each day, moment by moment.
The better we can understand our own minds (made up of thoughts and feelings), the more aware of and in control we are over our own behavior. Rather than judging and reacting what occurs in our experience, we learn to observe and respond. Mindfulness helps us conduct our lives in a way that is healthy, responsible and joyful,” notes the Hawn Foundation Web site.
Cape May Elementary School Chief School Administrator Victoria Zelenak has been teaching Mindfulness for three years beginning with the fifth grade. It has moved to all grade levels in the school with all teachers trained in the practice.
Sixth grade students Michael Fortier and Connor Kennedy described it as a silent time to sit down and relax.
Fortier led board of education members at an April 30 meeting in the Silent Practice. He described it as time for students to calm themselves at the beginning of the school day, after lunch, after recess and before leaving for the day.
“We would sit there with our hands flat on our desk with our eyes closed and we would do that from 30 seconds to a minute,” he said. “We would calm down and let everything out of us.”
Fortier said students concentrate on the sound of a chime and become aware of their breathing. He said he pictured himself at the beach in his mind.
Zelenak said Mindfulness is based on brain research. Hawn determined that children are not happy in school and this would give them tools to be happier, she said.
Students learned the difference between Mindfulness and mindlessness by closing their eyes and focusing on all the sounds they could hear, said Zelenak. One student defined Mindfulness as paying attention to every second of your life.
“If you’re Mindful, you’ll be making good choices that affect not only yourself but everybody around you,” she said.
Exercises include Mindfulness Stories, Mindful Seeing such as studying in detail a piece of fruit and counting the trees on the school property, Mindful Smelling with scents such as coffee and mustard which triggered memories and feelings and Mindful Tasting which they savored grapes and chocolate kisses.
Students were read fairy tales and asked to take the perspective of the characters such as how the giant felt when Jack ran away with the golden goose.
Students learn about optimism. Zelenak said 11 students saw a half filled glass as half full while seven students saw it as half empty.
Students discussed what pessimism could lead to: depression, violence and suicide. By being silent and by being aware of what is going on around them, students can use Mindfulness as an alternative to drugs and alcohol to solve their problems, said Zelenak.
Students were asked to visualize a happy time in their life as way to get out of a depressed state. They also talked about what in their lives they were grateful for.
The children kept a Mindfulness Journal. Students were asked to perform five acts of kindness during the school day and picked categories of kindness on a larger scale: help the environment, senior citizens, sick children, animals and teachers.
Kennedy said he was doing more kind deeds as a result of the program.
“Some of the people that are mean, maybe they need a little extra boost of kindness and that might change them around,” said Fortier.

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