New initiative, and puppet, help school see success: ‘Office referrals are significantly down’

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Along with teaching normal subjects, like math and science, Smallwood Drive Elementary School, in Amherst, is teaching students how to be mindful. Their mindfulness campaign started at the beginning of the school year, and it’s been a roaring success. 

To teach the lessons, the school uses a puppet named ‘Roary.’ The school’s mascot is the tiger, so Roary is a tiger as well. 

Almost every Friday, Roary appears on the school’s morning announcement with the school’s social worker, Jennifer Noe. He conveys different feelings like sadness, anxiousness, excitement and others. Noe helps him work through those emotions with different breathing exercises, and other easy techniques to stay calm. 

“Mindfulness is a way for students to be aware of their emotions,” Daniel Lewis said, the principal of Smallwood Drive Elementary School. “So if they’re in a situation where they’re getting upset, the ultimate goal is for students to be aware that they’re becoming upset and then to recognize that… use some deep-breathing techniques, for instance, as a way to calm themselves down, so that way they’re managing their behavior. So that’s the ultimate goal.”

The mindfulness campaign is only in its first year at Smallwood, and Principal Lewis said office referrals are already significantly down from last year. 

Research shows when a strong emotion hits a person, if that person doesn’t calm down within 90 seconds, it could snowball. In a classroom, that could mean a meltdown that could disrupt the whole class. 

“If you don’t stop the brain within that first 90 seconds, it could take up to 27 minutes for us to calm down,” Noe said. 

Noe’s techniques are helping students be mindful of these emotions, and work through them. 

“What we’re trying to do here is give students tools and lay the foundation that will carry them ideally through adulthood,” Principal Lewis said. 

Last school year the school introduced the acronym PAWS: Practice being a friend, Always be respectful, Work to learn and grow, and Safety first. This mindfulness campaign goes one step further, and administrators say it will definitely be back in years to come. 

It’s a school-wide effort, and with the help of a stuffed tiger, the school is seeing major success. 

Smallwood Drive Elementary was also recently honored with a huge award. They were one of three schools in New York to receive the 2019 New York School of Character certification. It was a year-long process to apply. 

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