Pittsburg Schools Build Powerful Partnership with Mindful Life Project to Enhance Mental and Emotional Health, Increase Learning, And Build Resilience
Pittsburg, CA – After a very successful first year of mindfulness at all 8 elementary schools, the Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD), continues to build a powerful and first of its kind partnership with the nonprofit organization Mindful Life Project. In this second year, all eight elementary schools will continue to be served with the expectation of reaching some 5,400 students.
“We had a very successful first year of implementation across all of our elementary schools last year,” said Superintendent Janet Schulze. “We have made the commitment to continue this important work so all of our scholars can learn about the brain, emotions, and how mindfulness can be applied to their daily lives.”
JG Larochette, founder and executive director of the Mindful Life Project (MLP), which provides the mindfulness-based direct service programming, believes, “PUSD’s investment in mindfulness shows the deep commitment Pittsburg Unified has in serving the whole child and meeting the social emotional needs of students and staff. In a time where teachers, principals and district leaders are being pushed to meet growing mental health needs it is imperative that districts partner with organizations like ours. MLP sees this growing partnership as a model for school districts across the country.”
Meeting a Demonstrated Need
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged exposure to adverse childhood events (such as poverty or racism) without adequate adult support it can trigger a toxic stress response that studies have shown disrupt brain and other organ development and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment into adulthood. Seventy-five percent of Pittsburg students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 65 percent are Hispanic, and 16 percent are Black.
Teachers are an important part of any child’s adult support network, but as an issue brief by Pennsylvania State University confirmed, teaching is one of the most stressful occupations and, “Stress not only has negative consequences for teachers, it also results in lower achievement for students and higher costs for schools.”
Pittsburg’s Coordinator of Socio-Emotional Supports Tracy Catalde, EdD, who had already established an innovative program aimed at fostering a consistently positive environment for teachers and students, was well aware of the benefits of mindfulness when a district principal told him of MLP. With support from the John Muir Community Health Fund (CHF), Catalde and Larochette crafted a roll out of programming so that in 2 years all elementary schools had the programming and in year 3 is continuing that and adding the middle schools.
Overwhelmingly Positive Response
At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, MLP surveyed participating students and teachers. More than 90 percent of students reported a positive effect tied to their ability to recognize emotions, notice where they are showing up in the body and having the tools to better respond than react. Almost 90 percent of teachers noticed positive changes in students’ self-awareness and ability to relate to one another. 94 percent of students also reported that mindfulness was important to them. Additionally, 96 percent of teacher’s wanted MLP back for the 2022-2023 school year.
The families have been extremely impressed about the program. In a board meeting, Mary Fitzgerald spoke about her first grade daughter, who’d had behavioral challenges exacerbated by the pandemic and family changes. “Mindfulness helped with her aggression and her ability to verbalize her feelings,” said Fitzgerald. “She now takes a moment to…process emotions before reacting. And it helped with her focus too.”
“The coaches taught me to care for others and taught me to be more mindful about life,” said third-grader Sophia Rios. “They taught me to breathe…and I made friends there.”
Her mother, Nitasha, said, “It gave her skills to cope with changes we’re all going through, for channeling energy and stress, for knowing when she needs a break when things feel a little overwhelming.”
And Larochette received a text from one of MLP’s Board Members, Justin Michael Williams, a meditation teacher, author and musician who grew up in Pittsburg. He wrote: “My niece Facetimed me yesterday and said, ‘I learned mindfulness today,’ and she’s teaching us about naming her feelings and the characters (from MLP’s Brain House Curriculum) coming to visit her. So mind-blowing to experience the MLP work happening in my family. She’s in kindergarten at Foothill. She also said, ‘My mindfulness teacher is brown like me.’”
“Programs like this are hard to find, let alone for kids with special needs,” said Fitzgerald. “With the pandemic and all the violence and turmoil in the world that our kids are seeing or what they might be dealing with at home or in their community, continuing a program like this is so important.” Over at Foothill Elementary a student recently said, “Mindfulness is important to me because it teaches us how to not judge and learn how to stay calm and have a good and positive attitude.”
As shared by a first grade teacher at Marina Vista Elementary, “The Mindful Breathing activities helped students, teachers and even reached homes where support for conflict was needed.” Over at Marina Vista Elementary a 5th grade teacher shared, “The MLP Coach has been an amazing help to our school and our staff this year in many ways. From opening our bi-weekly staff meetings with some mindfulness and focus to being there to help us out with our many tragedies this year. She has been an open ear to vent to as well as a shoulder to cry on. I feel very lucky to have her on our campus!!”
The impact was felt across students, teachers, leaders and families so much so that MLP and PUSD continue to build a model that is a first of its kind across the country! It is transforming schools from the inside out with comprehensive school district approaches woven with an amazing partnership with Mindful Life Project.
About Pittsburg Unified School District:
Video about PUSD: https://youtu.be/X2xn3HOavfM. Awarded the College Board’s Gaston Caperton Opportunity Honor Roll award in 2016 for expanding access to college, Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD) is one of 130 school districts across the nation recognized for creating opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students. PUSD is a K-12 district serving the community of Pittsburg, California. Founded in 1933, the school system is committed to providing an excellent opportunity for all students to learn. Comprised of eight elementary schools, three junior high schools, one comprehensive high school, one continuation high school, an adult school, independent study options, and a preschool program, the school district serves more than 11,300 students. PUSD is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, fifty minutes outside of downtown San Francisco.
About Mindful Life Project:
Mindful Life Project helps transform schools and communities from the inside out with innovative mindfulness based social emotional learning direct service programming for students and trainings for school staff, families and more.