West’s Family Matters Program provides skills that will go a long way

West Elementary School supports social emotional learning, a subject that is emphasized throughout the district, with a program entitled “Family Matters.” The initiative began in 1999 under the name, “School Families,” and has evolved from a mentor program to one that includes a gratitude and growth mindset. Every Day 6, students and staff members partake in specialized activities and lessons that incorporate social and emotional values.

Family Matters events encourage students to be aware of their own feelings, as well as the feelings of others. The sessions also provide techniques that help reduce anxiety and negative thoughts by teaching students to manage their minds and emotions positively and stay in the moment. While some workshops are held as class activities, others involve “partner families” where different age groups pair up to learn from one another and develop new bonds.

Most recently, on Jan. 23, all kindergarten through fifth-grade classes viewed a video on mindfulness, engaged in group discussions and participated in a guided meditation exercise. They practiced a strategy called pause, breathe, smile, which is used to improve focus and let go of stress, and reviewed words such as calmness, attention and awareness.
Students visualized their favorite places and were conscious of their breathing and senses while they relaxed and listened to their teachers’ prompts. Afterwards, they created illustrations based on their experiences and shared reflections with classmates. An assortment of “favorite places” ranged from vacation destinations to family members’ homes, from sports arenas to theme parks.

“Meditation and mindfulness are great ways to help focus our students and help them to be present where they are,” said teacher-in-charge Donna Fee. “Mindfulness also helps children develop kindness and curiosity, and improves their ability to focus on one thing at a time while supporting social and emotional wellbeing.”

Other Family Matters activities held this school year have concentrated on breathing variations, other visualization and meditation exercises, kindness, acceptance and making a difference. The initiatives often tie in with current events and themes. Prior to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, activities and conversations were dedicated to diversity and appreciating people for their uniqueness. During the holiday season, students explored traditions and the common values that exist regardless of how a person celebrates. West will continue this program with many more sessions in the upcoming months.