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Indianola Mindfulness Program Helps Students Learn, Manage Stress

Indianola mindfulness program

December 9, 2022 -- Anne Comarda encouraged students to tune in and listen to their breath and the sounds around them. 

The room quieted as students turned their focus inward. Then, after a few minutes, Comarda asked them how they felt listening to the sounds around them. 

“I felt calm,” one student said. 

Comarda then asked students when it may be helpful for them to stop and take notice of their breathing. 

“It can help if you’re not feeling calm at school,” one of the students said. 

Comarda is a certified mindfulness instructor through the organization Mindful Schools, a licensed social worker, and a parent. She has taught mindfulness at Indianola Informal K-8 since 2018. The weekly 20-minute lessons, which are secular, are part of a 16-week curriculum for K-5 classrooms. Students may opt-out of the program for any reason. 

“I teach them ways to pay attention to their breath, the sounds around them, what they see around them, and how to notice their emotions and thoughts,” Comarda said. “Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening at the moment. I tell kids that we are noticing what’s going on right now and when we practice this, it helps make our focus stronger and helps us calm down at the moment if we are upset.” 

Comarda weaves in lessons of emotional regulation, stress management, and ways to cultivate calming exercises and gratitude into daily life. 

“The importance of mindfulness is staying regulated throughout your day,” Comarda said. “We all move in and out of states of activation and calm throughout the day. There has been so much stress, especially since the start of the pandemic. Kids have experienced so much loss. Sometimes, you can feel stuck in a place of activation, and mindfulness is a tool we can use to get back into feeling calmer.” 

Hope Borton has taught at Indianola for the last two years and teaches second and third-graders. She saw the mindfulness program as an opportunity to help her students. 

“I was seeing a lot of anxiety,” Borton said. “They came back from not being in school for a while and just having high levels of restlessness. It was great to have Anne come in and teach these lessons and incorporate coping strategies for students to use here and at home. They can learn how to pause, scan their bodies, recognize how they are feeling, and think about the decisions they were making before they took action.” 

Comarda and Borton have seen many benefits. The program emphasizes Priority One of the Strategic Plan, focusing on the whole child. Comarda said the practice could help cultivate compassion, gratitude, and generosity.

“Kids will tell me how they use the practice, like saying they were fighting with their siblings, and instead of throwing something, they paused, took a few breaths, and walked away,” Comarda said. “I had another student who said she noticed when she paid attention to her breath, it was easier to pay attention even when she wasn’t trying to. That’s the crux of the practice. Little moments make it possible to be present your whole day.” 

Borton has also seen the effects in students, including her class being calmer and more ready to learn. 

“The biggest benefit I saw for our students is that they learn skills, which I saw them use during standardized testing, such as taking a moment to breathe,” she said. “I also saw students take mindful moments when they have arguments. For example, they thought about what they wanted to say before responding to students at recess.” 

Borton has also seen benefits within herself as well as her classroom overall. 

“I’m in the room when she is teaching mindfulness to the class, and it’s a chance for me to be a student with them because I’m learning all of this too,” Borton said. “It also made me have increased awareness in myself as well. One example is bringing awareness to the fact that my students react to me and my mental and emotional regulation. They influence each other and can be influenced by me in how I portray myself to them. I have to ensure that I’m taking care of myself, so I can be a role model and take care of my students.” 

Borton and Comarda hope these lessons can carry into students’ lives. 

“I hope that they have these tools that they can use to meet whatever challenges come at them in life and that they can use those tools to respond to challenges instead of always reacting,” Comarda said. “I hope that they feel empowered.” 

Power of One

Priority 1 - Whole Child FocusedPortrait Attribute 1 - AdaptabilityPortrait Attribute 2 - CommunicationPortrait Attribute 3 - CreativityPortrait Attribute 5 - Global Empathy