South Orangetown Central School District

For forty minutes on Tuesday, physical education teacher Sue O’Rourke led a mindfulness session with fifth-graders in teacher Jaime Sainz’s class. Students engaged in a series of activities–from balancing a peacock feather on their bodies to sun salutations to separating dry rice and beans with their eyes closed–to practice focusing their attention and developing strength and dexterity, with special attention to using both sides of their body. “You need to use your non-dominant hand,” she advised. “It’s important for whatever you do, if you’re an athlete or an artist, or a musician, you need to to use your whole body.”

The classroom-based mindfulness sessions are new this year and offered once a day. Teachers “book” Ms. O’Rourke to work with their students. “These strategies help students self-regulate in order to learn the ability to manage their emotions and behaviors, and helps to build their self-esteem. This confidence learned in yoga can then be carried into the real world,” she said. “They are things that everyone can do. Each strategy can be modified so that there are lots of ways to be successful.”

Assistant Principal Rob Schliessman noted that this work is part of a broader effort at CLE. “The mindfulness experiences that Coach O’Rourke is bringing to classrooms supports the social, emotional, mental and physical health that all students and adults need to be successful in their everyday lives. Sue has visited almost every classroom at CLE to share mindfulness games and activities that the students can try at home and that teachers can continue to use in their classrooms. Ask your child to share with you at home. This work continues to support the Social Emotional Learning that we teach at Cottage Lane,” he explained.

“Taking the time out of the instructional day for mindfulness activities helps students build awareness of their emotions, as well as continue to build on their emotional health,” said Ms. Sainz. “The children are exposed to controlled breathing exercises, yoga poses, concentration activities that all can be applied inside and outside the classroom. These mindful experiences can positively impact their self awareness, coping skills, memory and attention to a task among many other benefits. I see it as a crucial part of their school day that can have numerous positive effects as they continue to develop throughout their lives.”

Students with teacher in circle, holding hands