Photo Courtesy of LAUSD

Students at San Fernando Elementary School will be returning to something else besides a typical curriculum: a program that promotes a new way to approach the school day.

Known as “MindUP,” the program is designed to help reduce stress, improve academic performance, strengthen abilities for concentration “and help children and educators thrive in a setting that becomes a community of learners. In addition it would help eliminating bullying and aggression, while resolving peer conflicts in school.  

The program is a 10-year collaborative effort of neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and educators with the Hawn Foundation, founded by veteran actress Goldie Hawn.

According to Principal Maria Awakian, the Hawn Foundation provided San Fernando Elementary School with all the curriculum material and paid for the training of the faculty, making the program to be available to all students for the 2015-16 academic year.

“We’re doing this school wide,” Awakian said. “We have about 700 students … and all of our teachers have been trained in ‘MindUP’ and have the curriculum.”

Awakian expects a “gradual change” in the students as they learn and begin to apply the program’s lessons.

“It really is about building a culture of kindness,” she said, “and optimizing a student’s ability to learn and process information. The lessons are intended to do that. And as it progresses … it’s about being mindful, being empathetic, being understanding of society and the world.

“It’s also developing a culture where you’re being kind to fellow classmates, your teachers. The whole idea is to build a culture of kindness not just in our students, but in our staff and school community.”

Awakian first learned about the program in detail at a meeting at L.A. Mission College last spring. “Congressman Tony Cárdenas was there, really promoting it, and I had gotten some very good information how it had been working at other schools, and impact it was having on students. So it was something we wanted to embrace,” she said.

Cardenas said he was “encouraged a local school” was implementing the program.

“The event was created to meet with principals, educators, and community members about how the concepts behind Mind Up could be brought into the schools in the San Fernando Valley and Greater Los Angeles area,” the congressman said about the gathering at Mission College. “I’m happy Goldie is bringing new ways to learn social and emotional learning skills to our students.”

“I have always been fascinated by the limitless potential of the brain and have seen first-hand the positive impact of ‘heart-mind centric’ education for children and educators,” Hawn said on the foundation website.

“Embarking on my own journey exploring neuroscience, positive psychology, mindful awareness training and it’s impact physically and emotionally on human beings, led me on a larger quest, as a children’s advocate, to improve their overall state of well being.”

“MindUP” combines neuroscience, mindful awareness, positive psychology and social-emotional learning into an encompassing program for students and faculty, giving them methods to promote positive interaction and and a more productive learning environment.

According to it’s website, “MindUP” is composed of 15 lessons based in neuroscience. Students learn to self-regulate their behavior and develop an increase levels of concentration required for academic success.

In essence, “kids learn how their brain works,” Awakian said. “They learn what parts of the brain control when like you’re getting angry, and when they see that happening they learn how to stop it.

“It has two aspects — moderating your behavior and being able to take what we call ‘brain breaks’, so you can be

focused on the learning. We’re looking to improve the behavior climate  

at the school, and the learning climate at the same time.”

An important aspect of the program, Awakian said, is what is called “brain breaks,” to help re-set the minds. Methods include breathing exercises.

“We all have lives and things that happen our lives. And it’s no different for our kids,” she said. “We don’t what happened in your life when you’re at home. Did you have illness or a conflict? We bring that to our work, we have to let it go. And it’s easier said than done.

“We can focus our brains to concentrate on the learning at hand. So we want to optimize the use of our brains when we’re here.”

Awakian said parents could find out more about “MindUP” on the school website,