SHREWSBURY – Mindfulness is paramount at Shrewsbury Public Schools, and the district has recently undertaken several initiatives to improve the mental health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.
Jordan Grinstein, the mindfulness director now in his second year with the district, is no small part of these efforts. Grinstein develops and delivers mindfulness programming for the entire district, traveling between the schools to meet students and teach mindfulness techniques to individuals of all ages. The Community Advocate followed Grinstein on a day in April to document his efforts to spread mindfulness throughout the schools.
Grinstein started his day at Sherwood Middle School, where dozens of fifth-graders on 5 Red anticipated his visit. When Grinstein visits, several students have the opportunity to become teachers.
The approach, which Assistant Superintendent for Community Partnerships and Well-Being Jane Lizotte called “students leading students,” gives fifth-graders the opportunity to teach mindfulness to their peers throughout the district.
Three presenters headed to the front of the class to meet Grinstein, or Mr. Jordan, as they call him. Grinstein began a Zoom call, and the fifth-grade students began teaching mindfulness techniques to hundreds of peers from first through fifth grade from around the district.
Grinstein said that the “students leading students” approach is better – both in quantity and quality. By Zooming throughout the district, Grinstein is able to extend mindfulness programming to places he otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach daily. The students also receive multiple benefits.
“Some of the best meditation teachers that I know are nine-, 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds. How can I continue to amplify their voice, their skills, and their connection with their peers? Research shows that young people learn better from people their own age,” Grinstein said.
The Zoom call began with a deep breath, and then the presenters started their teaching. Throughout their presentation, the students were guided through several mindfulness activities, including yoga poses and “rainbow breaths.” Throughout the call, the student guides used sophisticated and precise language they had learned throughout the year intended to keep the students comfortable.
“Take care of your body,” one presenter said.
“Notice how you feel,” another said.
The students across the district listening to the call felt better after the presentation.
“I didn’t get a lot of rest last night, but this made me feel better,” one first-grader said. Another participant mentioned how the student “had a door of energy closed [that’s] now open.”
Kevin Donahue, the 5 Red English and social science teacher, said that the students who are presenting also benefit from teaching. Sherwood Middle School only has fifth- and sixth-grade students, he explained, so students embrace the opportunity to lead younger peers through the exercises.
“You’d be surprised how quickly the students develop the ability to lead these practices,” Grinstein said. Lizotte noted that oftentimes the last people you’d expect to embrace mindfulness become the leaders and student presenters.
After the 5 Red students had helped Grinstein spread mindfulness throughout the district, he moved across the school and met 5 Silver. This time, he led the activity himself, but students had the opportunity to lead certain exercises. To Grinstein, educating young people about mindfulness is incredibly important.
“I’ve heard other people say [mindfulness] gives [students] the tools before they even need the tools,” he said. “[Young students] have emotions – they have strong emotions – and mindfulness is a way of learning how to be with ourselves in those tense moments.”
After the two presentations at Sherwood, Grinstein had two classes of Shrewsbury High School students awaiting his arrival. After a brief presentation by the School Counseling Department, Grinstein took the floor.
After introducing himself, Grinstein explained the importance of mindfulness to the students.
“Mindfulness is unique to everyone. It’s innate. It’s instinctual. We do it naturally,” Grinstein told the Community Advocate before the high school presentation. “With mindfulness strategies, we can intentionally notice that as we go throughout our day, tension and stress builds up in our busy lives, and we can intentionally use the breath, the mind, positive self-talk to go throughout our day with more ease, less stress, less tension, more grace, more efficiently.”
Grinstein then led a roughly 30-minute meditation session with the students. Peaceful music replaced the usual hustle and bustle of the high school, and the students were able to relax.
“That was so cool,” one student told Grinstein at the end of his presentation.
Grinstein later traveled to Oak Middle School to speak to health classrooms about mindfulness.
“I hold strong the perspective that each human – regardless of age – is a genius. Everyone has a unique set of skills or gifts to offer the world. Part of my work is trying to figure out what people’s unique gifts are and highlighting that for them. They might not know,” he said.
The mindfulness-forward attitude isn’t just a one-day event in Shrewsbury Public Schools – it’s every day. Grinstein continues to travel between two, three, and even four schools per day to spread his message and techniques. The following day, Grinstein returned to the high school to deliver the same presentation to a different group of students.
“The good news is we have the rest of the year to share mindfulness with one another,” Grinstein said while meeting with the fifth-graders earlier in the day. “We have the rest of our lives too.”