At a time when the sales of bullet proof backpacks and metal reinforced binders are climbing due to school safety concerns, some Dallas elementary schools are using another method to promote a safe environment.
At Hexter Elementary in east Dallas, classes circle up for weekly mindfulness lessons.
Funded by a private donor, peace educator Veronica Valles teaches those classes starting with a series of three deep breaths before checking in on how students are feeling.
“It’s a critical tool, because it’s social, emotional intelligence. We’re not trained to know how to understand our emotions. We’re not trained to know it’s normal to have difficult emotions, but I can use mindfulness and the pause to respond, to get beneath what’s happening before I react, to turn to someone for support before maybe I would take an action that’s harmful to myself or others,” said Valles.
Principal Jennifer Jackson’s been a huge supporter of the program for the three years it has been in her school, calling it part of Hexter’s culture.
“It’s a proactive way to ensure that students feel safe and that they feel heard and that their feelings and needs are being met without it escalating to a conflict that will require getting an administrator involved,” said Jackson.
During that time, she says many students have started using the skills outside of school when life gets stressful.
“I sit on my bed criss-cross, and my cat’s sometime there, and I put my hand on my heart and my other hand on my stomach and I do three deep breaths,” said fifth grader Alexa Munoz.
For some that pause to reflect on how they’re feeling and what they need has become a coping mechanism through life’s toughest times.
“This Labor Day my father passed away. Sometimes I’ll be down about it, but then mindfulness helps me. I’ll just take a couple of deep breaths to help me look at the positive side of it,” said fifth grader Ezra Russell.
Seeing how Russell and his classmates have used those skills to handle big emotional challenges has given Valles success that they're not only helping them now but also in the future.
“When I see them utilizing these skill sets it gives me, I don’t want to use the word hope, but I see the possibility of a new way of being in the world," said Valles.
Valles teaches as a community partner. She also works in Sanger Elementary and Bayles Elementary.