A Focus on Mindfulness Helps Cleveland Students and Teachers Ease Stress

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It is no secret that the last three years have taken a toll on the mental health of many young people. In 2021 as schools returned to in-person learning, one local charter school, Imagine Bella Academy of Excellence, decided to do something about it. With financial support from Ohio’s Student Success and Wellness funds, they partnered with The Well, a nonprofit focused on healing and well-being, to provide much-needed mental health support to its K-6 students. 

“Regular mindfulness practice has been linked to improved attention and focus, which can enhance learning and academic performance,” said Arun Dutt, principal at Imagine Bella. “By training the mind to be more present and attentive, students may also experience fewer distractions and be more engaged in their learning.”

The school’s program includes two Mindful Educators who are on campus daily working with students to deepen their Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills. The goal was to create a more positive learning environment for children by integrating practices like daily mindfulness prompts, breathing exercises, yoga, poetry, music, and art into the school day. 

To support the initiative, a classroom at Imagine Bella was transformed into “The Oasis Room.” The calm and cozy space has bean bags, mood lighting, and a music corner. It offers students a moment to regulate and reset during the school day. Each week all students have a Mindfulness special in the room with their class to practice these focus strategies which they can use to improve their own self-regulation.  Additionally, students have attended mindfulness field trips to a horse ranch, a farm where students helped with planting, and the Cleveland Orchestra and Art Museum. 

Research has shown that SEL provides major benefits, such as development of problem solving skills, ability to overcome obstacles, stronger relationships with peers and families, improved positive attitudes towards self and others, and increased resilience. When schools couple SEL with mindfulness practices the opportunities for development of these skills is dramatically increased. Teaching mindfulness in the classroom can be particularly helpful for young people as a means to boost attention skills and cope with stress, according to a 2019 report published by researchers at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research.

Now entering its second year, the program at Imagine Bella has expanded by engaging and supporting the entire staff through professional development sessions. In addition to school-wide initiatives of character education and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, teachers are learning mindfulness strategies to support students and themselves. 

“We realize that we need to support the wellbeing of our educators as well so that they can better meet the needs of their students,” added Sarah Myers, academic coach at Imagine Bella. “As a result, we are seeing positive shifts in academic achievement and character development, as well as fewer discipline problems. We had 24% fewer suspension days this school year. The number of students and events of suspension have all decreased.” 

Imagine Bella Academy of Excellence is seeking additional support and partnerships to sustain the innovative Mindfulness program at the school. 

“Overall, a mindfulness program can have numerous benefits for students and staff, including improved mental and physical health, enhanced social-emotional skills, and increased focus and attention” added Principal Dutt. “By promoting mindfulness practices in the school setting, we can create a more supportive and nurturing learning environment for all.” 

About Imagine Bella Academy of Excellence Established in 2009, Imagine Bella Academy of Excellence is an open-enrollment public charter school located in Cleveland, Ohio. It serves students in grades K-6 and provides an innovative and academically excellent learning environment that is centered on students, directed by teachers, and supported by home and community.

About The Well – The award-winning programs of The Well combine aspects of mindfulness, arts, social-emotional learning, play, movement, and poetry into practices for regular use within schools, hospitals, and communities. The Well is highly collaborative and partners with world-class arts, social service, education, and health care providers to mindfully connect arts and healing content to those who need it the most.