Achieving CALM at Groveton Elementary School
Sueann Tupy’s classroom at Groveton Elementary School is a peaceful, safe place, complete with a singing bowl, battery powered candles, white noise, and comfortable places to unwind. Tupy, a 23-year veteran teacher, is in her first year running the CALM (Classrooms and Community Achieving Lifelong Mindfulness) program at Groveton, combining 20 years of practicing yoga and mindfulness with her experience as a classroom teacher. Established to provide students and teachers an opportunity to unwind and re-center themselves during busy school days, the program offers guided exercises in focus, relaxation, breathing, and meditation. Some teachers attend with their students; Groveton also has a school wide Wednesday Wellness program where Tupy teaches yoga to the staff before and after school.
The CALM program is part of a whole school, well-being promotion effort at Groveton that is already gaining national attention, and will be presented as an example of best practices at the American Public Health Association conference in November. The whole school intervention also includes a series of teacher and staff professional developments provided by Suzie Carmack, Ph.D., an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University and founder of the Center for Well-Being Education. While Tupy provides mindful movement classes, Carmack provides professional development trainings (in-person and online) that teach teachers and staff members how to lead Genius Breaks—Carmack’s method for taking mini-breaks of mindful movement throughout the school or workday.
Also included is an annual community wellness night, designed to teach Groveton families how to manage stress at home with a combination of good nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness.
Together these efforts seek to ensure that everyone in the Groveton community can support each other in the promotion of a well-being culture. “Recent research shows that stress in the classroom and workplace is not only bad for each of us – it’s actually contagious,” says Carmack. “It makes logical sense that when we’re ‘stressed out’ or feeling overwhelmed it is harder to focus, harder to engage, and harder to perform at our very best. We’re creating a school well-being culture in which everybody wins: students become more fully present and engaged as learners because they’re not distracted or feeling overwhelmed; teachers and staff have the tools they need to buffer themselves against the long term effects of compassion fatigue and burnout; and parents are more well-equipped to handle the tough challenges of parenting in a non-stop, 24-7 world.”
Although the program is still relatively new, it is already making an impact on students. A kindergarten teacher shared this experience: “During a school lockdown drill, several of my kindergarten students sat in calm pose while we waited for the drill to end. One of my students also did the criss cross yoga sauce movement quietly. He is a limited English speaker and new to school, so I was happy to see he could use these skills during a situation that is strange for five and six year olds.”
The whole school well-being program was funded through the school’s budget, and a Donors Choose grant paid for some of the equipment. “We felt that the mental and emotional health of our students was a priority, so we found ways to prioritize the money to make it happen,” said Groveton principal Jim Swoger. He praised the Region 3 leadership for working with the school to ensure that other departments—including physical education and school counseling—were included in the planning and implementation.
Each class receives a minimum of 30 minutes of CALM each week in grades PreK-6, and all staff members are welcome to participate in the program. As she provides messages of calmness, kindness, and mindfulness to the students, Tupy intersperses simple yoga-inspired poses such as mountain and tree while reminding them that their actions affect others. She also encourages the students to hone their listening skills so they can be aware of how others are feeling and reacting to them.
“I want them to experience quiet,” she explains. “Many of them are not used to that. Being without TVs and technology is hard for some of them.” Tupy stresses that students are safe in her classroom as she encourages them to be calm. With a particularly rambunctious class, she observes, “We need grounding today. Some days we need movement. Today, it’s grounding.”
Tupy teaches students to do straw breathing (breathing through a straw) to use breath to help them relax. When stretched out on yoga mats or with their legs on the wall, they balance a small rubber duck on their stomachs to help them focus on their breathing, a popular exercise.
Groveton teachers are enthusiastic about the CALM program. One teacher says, “On the days when I do CALM, I feel that I am more able to be patient and less reactive to stress. Every day I do allow students a few minutes of quiet time after specials and recess, allowing students to lay down on the carpet. I noticed a positive difference in engagement during lessons and activities after quiet time.”
Another Groveton teacher adds, “The implementation of CALM this year has made me more cognizant of supporting my students’ needs for movement and emotional support. I have noticed my students assuming ‘yogi’ pose while waiting for others to get settled. It is helping to make them more aware of their minds and bodies and how they are connected.”