The Balsz Elementary School District in east Phoenix will become the first in the state to officially embrace an important curriculum for student mental health.
The district’s Governing Board voted recently to become the first Mindfulness First school district, implementing a program by Mindfulness First in each of its schools designed to promote mental health and social and emotional well-being as part of the educational curriculum.
The program is particularly timely considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the additional stresses being placed upon students at this time. It is designed to help curb the potential for mental health issues as children grow and development, and prevent such problems as depression and teen suicide.
Mindfulness First’s mission is to offer scientifically-informed programs based in trauma-informed mindful awareness and social-emotional learning while equitably supporting children, educators, and communities with tools to manage stress and navigate life’s challenges.
The Mindfulness First curriculum has already been in use at Crockett Elementary School in the Balsz district since 2015. Crockett is home to a large Somali refugee population and it is the home school for the UMOM homeless shelter for women and children, some of whom have experienced domestic violence. More than 500 children attend Crockett, 95 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch making Crockett a Title 1 school.
Additionally, Arizona State University researchers Professor Danah Henriksen and educational doctorate student Natalie Gruber will be conducting three years of research on the results of the mindful district program. The goal is to demonstrate the impact of the program and help both the Arizona Department of Education and other districts see the potential of grounding schools in mental health wellbeing.
Dr. Arleen Kennedy, Superintendent of the Balsz Elementary School District, said that the results the district has seen at Crockett Elementary made it clear that the approach would work at other schools in the district.
“We have seen first-hand just how much this program helps our students with their emotional well-being and mental health,” Kennedy said. “We want to make sure that all of our students have the opportunity to improve and develop these important mental health characteristics. The Mindfulness First program has truly helped children and their families, and we look forward to implementing it districtwide.”
The mindfulness curriculum encourages students to focus on awareness, compassion and restoration while learning how to understand and regulate their difficult emotions, and includes such activities as mindful moments, walking, lunch periods with low voices and mindfulness corners in the classroom to help students reset their emotions. Teachers at Crockett have noticed significantly positive changes in student behavior as a result of the program.
Sunny Wight, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Mindfulness First, said that the district’s decision to implement the program in all schools is an important step forward for the inclusion of emotional well-being as part of the broader educational curriculum.
“We are very pleased to be able to implement the program in additional schools in the Balsz School District,” Wight said. “Balsz is truly serving as a leader and an example of how mindfulness can be a critical component in education, particularly for populations of students that are already facing the challenges created by poverty. We are grateful to the district for its vision and look forward to working with all Balsz students to improve their mental health and well-being.”
The additional schools in the district are Brunson-Lee Elementary School, Griffith Elementary School and Pat Tillman Middle School, as well as the district’s preschool, Orangedale Early Learning Center. The Balsz Elementary School District is located in a diverse and economically challenged part of east Phoenix north of Sky Harbor International Airport. For more information on the district, visit www.balsz.org.