Helping Jersey City Students Make Mindful CHOICES
The CHOICES Program is an alternative special education program, implemented in the Jersey City Public School system to achieve positive change and outcomes for at-risk students. The acronym CHOICES stands for Choosing Honor, Opportunity, Integrity, Character, Excellence and Service. It signifies a commitment to help children with behavioral and emotional disabilities acquire self-regulation skills, social skills, and anger management techniques to improve their overall mental health and sense of well-being.
The CHOICES academic program:
- Offers a low student to teacher ratio with a typical maximum of six students per class.
- Utilizes a behavioral management system (Class Dojo) to monitor classroom behavior.
- Teaches and reinforces behaviors necessary for a positive classroom setting.
- Provides 1:1 and group in-classroom counseling by psychologists and social workers.
- Includes art therapy, music therapy or adapted physical education.
- Requires daily engagement in movement, relaxation, and Mindfulness activities.
Mindfulness is a technique proven to help students
self-regulate their behavior, and help teachers manage
personal and classroom stress. It is both powerful and
empowering, and has become a required discipline
for all CHOICES students and staff.
Mindfulness Classroom Training
The goal of the HealthierJC mini-grant was to train more teachers on how to effectively apply the Mindfulness discipline in a challenging classroom setting. At the start of the program, there were only two staff members in the Jersey City Public School system that were experienced Mindfulness practitioners. Twelve additional staff members were selected to attend Educate 2B training to learn thirty movement, breathing, and Mindfulness exercises to utilize in the classroom. These exercises help students face difficulties with a clear mindset, respond appropriately, and enable them to succeed in school and life.
Teaching students stress reduction techniques, and establishing routines to maintain mental and physical well-being, is aligned with HealthierJC community health priorities. Given the strain the 2020 pandemic has placed on students, teachers, and parents, HealthierJC is hopeful that Mindfulness techniques will lay a foundation to manage shared classroom stress when public school eventually resumes in Jersey City. The process of “getting back to normal” in our schools and daily lives will require intentional and mindful self-management to overcome anxsiety and behaviors that may compromise mental and physical health.
Mindfulness also directly contributes to the overall success of the CHOICES program, which has enabled Jersey City Public Schools to better accommodate children with mental and behavioral disorders, including autism. This has minimized the need to displace Jersey City children with regional or state institutions that are disconnected from friends, family, and the community.
Mindfulness Classroom Results and Benefits
Over the past year, a total of 15 additional educators (13 funded by the HealthierJC mini-grant) were trained in evidence-based Mindfulness techniques. And as a result, over 75 students have received daily Mindfulness instruction in Jersey City CHOICES classrooms.
After instituting a morning Mindfulness routine, a middle school teacher noticed a significant improvement in how his students managed their feelings of frustration. And Mindfulness strategies have been successfully incorporated into counseling sessions for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The daily practice of Mindfulness – supplemented by coaching apps like gonoodle.com, headspace.com, and calm.com – increases the likelihood that stress management and behavioral control tactics will be adopted long term.
Another key indicator of success is the transition of children from CHOICES special education, back into a more traditional classroom setting. This is typically an incremental process, starting with one or more classes where behavior, academic performance, and peer assimilation are closely monitored. Based on recent data, 4 out of 50 CHOICES students fully transitioned out of the program, and another 4 were in the process of transitioning. With a success rate of over 15%, it is clear that Mindfulness has made a positive impact on the lives of students, and the effectiveness of in-classroom learning.
HealthierJC seeks to continue partnering with the Jersey City Board of Education to identify opportunities to expand Mindfulness within the public school system. It is a proven and pragmatic technique to help all children overcome behavioral challenges that can limit their academic performance and personal success. And in the wake of the pandemic, HealthierJC understands the potential of broadening the circle of Mindfulness practitioners throughout the Jersey City community to help everyone cope, adapt and thrive in the “new normal”.