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Om: Howland students practice mindfulness

Howland High School students sophomore Alexandra Litton, left, and junior Kate Li practice meditation during a "Mindfullness Monday" program after school Monday. The student-led program is open to all students in the school, and is also being used to replace detention for most behavioral problems.

HOWLAND — Students at Howland High School are getting the opportunity to build skills to improve mental health in place of serving a detention with “Mindfulness Monday.”

The program kicked off Monday with a half-hour of practicing meditation techniques that focus on dispelling nervousness, learning how to calm down and how to think about actions — starting with breathing.

“The basic part of human life is just breathing,” said junior Kate Li, who helped lead students. “When you focus on that, it helps you be calm for a sec.”

Li said she discovered mindfulness while attending the Harvard Summer School pre-college camp. She said the sessions she did there included breaking down the neuroscience of mindfulness as well as learning the practice. At Howland, Li teamed up with Psychology teacher Gina Camelli to make mindfulness a regular practice at the school.

Mindfulness Monday, a once-per-month reflective session, is set up in place of detention for minor behavioral or repeated insubordinate actions to help those students curb impulsive behavior and encourage intentionally. It also is open to any other students who are interested in practicing mindfulness.

Li told the students who were participating in Mindfulness Monday in place of a detention to be “open minded” about the experience. “I do think that it is (unapproachable) because it has a stigma because it’s sort of an out-of-body experience,” Li said.

One first-time mindfulness student said he understood mindfulness as “choosing a salad over choosing a Twinkie” — or making good decisions.

Camelli said she has been practicing mindfulness techniques with students in her Advanced Placement class for the past five years — and students are very receptive.

“When I started my Advanced Placement class five years ago, I noticed my students looked really stressed,” said Camelli. “I looked up mindfulness and meditation techniques and I started to implement it in the class.”

Now, students in Camelli’s AP and regular psychology classes have gotten comfortable with setting aside time for mindfulness. Students lay on mats on the floor and listen to guided meditation. She said though it may feel awkward at first, mindfulness becomes easier with practice.

“A lot of times I ask the students what they need, or they come to me,” Camelli said. She said students worried about big games or upcoming tests often ask if they can do a mediation.

Camelli said mindfulness has always been needed in the classroom, but she found a space to implement it with her AP class.

Monday, Camelli told beginner students that mindfulness could improve focus, calm personalities and in some cases increase creativity.

“I always tell my students, mental fitness is as important as physical fitness,” Camelli said.

“We decided to implement Mindfulness Monday as a way to improve our students’ general welfare, as well as promote self-regulation and coping skills for stress and anxiety. It is our goal to reduce certain behaviors in school that are often caused by those emotions,” said high school Principal Joe Simko. “There is research out there that documents the benefits of teaching mindfulness to students and we are hopeful we’ll soon begin to see them here at Howland High School.”

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