At 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in November a group of nearly 20 fourth graders were laying quietly on yoga mats, their toes and arms relaxed out to their sides and palms facing up. They were practicing one of their four annual sessions on mindfulness, led by yoga instructor Erin Peron, who encouraged them to focus on their bodies, one part at a time. “Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening to our bodies right now,” she told them, walking around the room. “All you have to do is breathe and listen.”
For the next 30 minutes, Ms. Peron (who is also a Woodbury and Fernway parent) led the students through exercises that emphasize body awareness and the importance of teamwork. Some students were more focused than others throughout the session, but they were all paying attention.
The Mercer program—modeled after a Fernway School mindfulness program, which began four years ago—is in its second year of connecting IB units of inquiry with mindfulness for all Mercer students. Ms. Peron plans the lessons with Mercer IB coordinator Maria Baker. “I’ve noticed a change with the first class [from last year],” Ms. Peron explains. “They are able to tune in to the self-regulation and calming exercises with more ease. They also understand that we are not trying to do more, but do less by taking our time to pay attention to ourselves, our breathing, stillness and how we move.”
To supplement Ms. Peron’s four sessions, Mercer occupational therapist Patrish Ferreri extends mindfulness lessons into brief classroom experiences for students. “Teachers sign-up to have Mrs. Ferreri come to their classrooms to develop students' social-emotional intelligence and provide them with beneficial tools for self-management,” says Ms. Baker.
Fourth grade teacher Cathy Richards says that the mindfulness practices are sticking with students. “The strategies learned during our Mindfulness sessions have become an important part of their day,” she says. “To see them use deep breathing exercises to relax when they feel stressed shows me the positive impact this has on them.”
Ms. Peron’s goal is for each student to learn a basic language that helps them navigate their emotions and the pressures of home and school. “Whether they enjoy mindful practices or not, I teach these practices so that students and teachers are able to recall them in times of need,” she says.
Mercer fourth grader Joe Millet is a fan of the sessions. “Mindfulness has made me a lot more focused and relaxed,” he says. “And that makes me feel good.”