Students Relax and Recharge in Mindfulness Room at Global
Imagine a room in a busy urban school that is dimly lit, quiet, and where cell phones are set aside. Such a room exists at Global Communications Academy, thanks to school social worker Merline Clark. Dubbed “Pause,” the room is designed to give students a space to shake off distractions and relieve stress.
“If we don’t deal with the distractions in kids’ heads, we’re not going to be able to get them to reach their potential,” said Clark, who started taking steps to realize her vision of the room last year.
In the room, which is filled with the aroma of potpourri and sounds of classical music, there are blue couches and seats at the far end, rolled up yoga mats, and blue and green tulle hanging from the ceiling. To the left is a bookshelf with books, blank journals, dry-erase boards, and mindfulness games. To the right, an “emotions” board where anonymous post-it notes include short statements like, “When I came in I felt hyper but now I feel soothed.”
With grant funds and money out of her own pocket, Clark created the room for students in her caseload as well as others she’s identified through observation. It serves both middle school and high school students, those in regular ed, special ed, with ADHD, or coping with trauma.
Each week, she receives 10 groups of students in the room. When they enter, students take off their coats, put down their backpacks, and set their phones down on a table. They grab a yoga mat and a spot on the floor to sit or lay down. Clark uses a singing bowl, or a bell that makes a gong sound when struck, to help students transition from the busyness of their day.
On a rainy day in November, Clark asked a group of five to write down how they felt when they entered the room and how they felt after the singing bowl. They each shared what they wrote and walked across the room to post their note on the emotions board and also look in one of the mirrors mounted there to see what that emotion looked like on them.
The students “get it,” says Clark. “They respect this space.” They relax and talk about what is causing them stress, from relationships to tough classes. “Mindfulness is an opportunity to be purposefully aware of your emotions, and process those emotions so you can make decisions.”
In the time she’s been hosting student groups, Clark has observed that even the toughest kids trust the space, close their eyes when guided to do so, and talk about issues they might not otherwise. They end each group by reciting affirmations such as:
“I am in charge of my own personal experience.”
“I do not react to harsh words.”
“I can bring myself back to center.”
In addition to the students, Clark has hosted staff in the room for professional development and plans to invite parents for self-care groups. Her approach is an example of social and emotional learning that supports the district priority of School Culture and Climate, ensuring students feel safe and valued at HPS.