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New Upper School Mindfulness Class Helps Students Manage Stress

The upper school is offering a new mindfulness class for students biweekly through April 2019 to help alleviate stress.

Andrew Mouzin

In the small dance studio next to Centennial Hall Auditorium, nine students and three teachers sit in silence, listening as mindfulness instructor and PHS parent Miriam Zavagnin strikes a bell. “Raise your hand once you hear the sound vanish.” The bell tolls for several seconds as the group closes their eyes, focused solely on the sound. 

The upper school is offering a new mindfulness class for students biweekly through April 2019 to help alleviate stress. Upper school counselor Kathy Lamb said the class came out of a planning session for a parent meeting on stress. Kathy invited Miriam to be a part of a panel and their conversation drifted into how to help upper school students manage stress. She approached her students and students on the Health and Wellness Committee who agreed it would be beneficial. “There are several school across the country who are including a mindfulness class in their school curriculum, or as an adjunct course,” Kathy said. The school is looking into adding a session for teachers only prior to the student’s class. 

Miriam has been in education for 15 years and teaching children’s yoga for seven years. Inspired by what she heard from Dave Mochel and his presentations at PHS, she offered to become a mindfulness adviser on the Wornall Campus. Miriam has served as the Mindful Moments instructor for approximately a year, helping teachers once a month on tips to infuse mindfulness into their classroom and their own lives. Once a semester, she goes into the classroom and works on movement and mindfulness training with early childhood and lower school students, and was eager to bring a program to the upper school. Miriam is currently working on becoming the first certified Mindful Schools instructor in Kansas City. The Mindful Schools program, for which the new class is based, is a research-based program focused on bringing mindfulness skills into K-12 classrooms. 

“In our school community, mindfulness can help students become more connected with themselves, which leads to better connections with other people,” Miriam shared. “There are a lot of studies saying the the reason for the vast amount of depression and anxiety in our society is based on the loss of one-to-one connections. A lot of communication now is nonverbal or through social media interaction. So the class will hopefully help these students to become more aware of themselves and their emotions, and lead to building better relationships.” 

Miriam feels that one of the benefits students, parents and teachers will see is the ability to focus. “For instance, the exercise we did of listening and following the bell sound forced them to really focus on one thing,” she said. “We think multitasking is a huge benefit. but it’s not really how our brain is designed to function.” 

Kathy and Miriam both said they hope the class will enlighten students to more effective ways of dealing with stress. “The techniques Miriam demonstrates in her classes are tools that students can use in college and beyond, in both their academic and personal lives,” Kathy shared.