SANDY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As students file into Lauren Nielsen’s social studies class at Albion Middle School, it’s the usual chit-chat and rambunctiousness 7th graders are known for; but as she begins class, a calm settles over each student.
She asks them to face forward and close their eyes as one student turns out the lights.
Then, for ten minutes, each pupil follows the instructions of an audio recording to relax, breathe in and out, and concentrate.
For the last few months, students in the Canyons School District have been engaged in “morning mindfulness” practice three days a week. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, students take three to ten minutes out of their second-period classroom instruction to fully engage with the present moment, using a program called Inner Explorer.
Mindfulness exercises are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce stress and anxiety in teens and even adults.
Students say the practice has helped them become better learners; teachers report fewer behavioral issues.
“With the guided practices, they are learning strategies and putting tools in their tool belt that they’ll remember in a few years if they need them,” said Albion Middle School social studies teacher Lauren Nielsen, who discovered mindfulness practice during her own mental health journeys, she said.
“It helps you to feel, deal and heal,” said Nielsen.
7th grader Caroline Boyack said she knows students who struggle with anxiety and depression. For herself, “morning mindfulness” helps her stay confident throughout the school day and in her daily life.
“It’s this time in your life where you are figuring out who you are,” said Boyack. “I feel more confident and relaxed on the days that we do it,” she said.
Vincent Huff, also a 7th grader, said mindfulness practice has helped him re-connect with himself during a time in life when it’s easy to get bogged down in what others think.
“You try to be popular and you try to want everybody to like you and you never want to be you,” said Huff. “This helps you be mindful of your body and yourself. It’s ‘being you,’ basically.”
Canyons School District hopes to continue and expand on the program in the coming school years.