Teachers at Valor Academy Elementary Charter School teach children hand poses and breathing techniques that help to calm them

At Valor Academy Elementary School, a charter school in Arleta — twice a day — after recess (10 a.m.) and lunch (11:50 a.m.), for about five minutes each time, 4-5-year-old kindergarten students dim their classroom lights, turn on ocean sounds and sit quietly on the classroom rug.

Then, led by one of their classmates, they gently place their hands on their bellies as they take deep relaxing breaths. Slowly, they move their heads and arms, and lie down at the end of each session.

While they look “so cute,” as one observer remarked, they are learning what can be a lifelong healthful practice – to center oneself – by slowing down and taking a “mindful moment” to breathe deeply and relax. The very young students sit up quietly, their energy shifted and looking more focused and ready to learn.

Even young children can feel stressed and it can affect their development. This generation of children will have challenges that previous generations didn’t have growing up. A lightning fast technical world surrounds them and the reality that precautions need to be taken to stay healthy.

“Our transitional kindergarteners were a year old when the pandemic started,” says Anna Hagen, a kindergarten teacher at Valor Academy Elementary School. “We help them identify and gain a better understanding of their emotions, develop vocabulary to express these and ways to respond. Students know that when they feel a certain way, they can stop, put their hand on their belly and breathe,” she said.

At this school students take turns leading these sessions.

“Kids really enjoy the program, especially having a classmate lead the meditation each day. The leader helps their friends calm down, and they in turn support their friend leading the work. The program helps kids take their learning into their own hands,” said Hagen.

“I like the program because it gives kids tools to identify their feelings and approach them in such a way that when a tough situation arises, they know how to respond in a mindful way,” said Perla Tejada. “We – the parents – don’t have to intervene so much.”

There are real benefits to having children learn yoga, mindful breathing and meditation at an early age. It helps their performance in school, helps them deal with difficult emotions, get along better with others, improve behavior and their health overall. These lessons can also be helpful at home and meditation right before bedtime can improve their sleep.

Educators are fully aware that the global pandemic disrupted learning for most students. Parents and family members who were essential workers and became infected during the peak of COVID-19 weren’t able to continue to work which increased financial hardship and stress at home, which can negatively impact everyone living under the same roof.  

“We focus not just on strong academics, but our student’s overall well-being,” said May Oey, principal for Valor Academy Elementary Schools. “We provide holistic support for students, so that they thrive in and beyond the classroom.” “We focus not just on strong academics, but our students’ overall well-being,” she added.

The school carves out time for “mindful meditation” for TK to fourth grade students daily. Starting this practice early helps to imprint the importance of self-care.

“Mindful meditation,” is part of Valor Academy’s social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, which is guided by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence RULER Program, which teaches the five skills for emotional intelligence. RULER is an acronoym for “recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating.” Charter schools like Valor Academy Elementary School are able to independently shape their own priorities for their curriculum.

In nine, tuition-free public charter schools across three communities in Los Angeles (West Adams/Baldwin Village, Koreatown, and the San Fernando Valley), Bright Star Schools’ currently teaches 3,500+ students. Valor Academy is one of the Bright Star Schools which describes the curriculum at their schools as providing rigorous academics, inclusive education, social-emotional support and rich life opportunities beyond the classroom from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade and up to six years of higher education support.

For more information go to: www.brightstarschools.org