Daily Social-Emotional Health Program Dramatically Reduces Depression & Anxiety in Students
March 29, 2021
Reading, writing, and arithmetic…meet “Mente y Movimiento.”
Over the past five years, the Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS), a public elementary school in Denver, CO, has made a conscious effort to transform the school environment and students’ social-emotional health. Using a wraparound approach that includes restorative disciplinary practices, community involvement, and more, the school has significantly reduced behavior issues and improved students’ well-being. One of the school’s core programs is Mente y Movimiento, a mind-and-body program to foster mental and physical health that is strengthened through a partnership with local organization ViVe Wellness.
DCIS PE and Mindfulness Instructor Brooke Reves works with kids every day on their social-emotional health. In the morning, she and other teachers lead check-ins with activities from Permission to Feel, such as using a color-coded emotional chart for kids to describe how they’re feeling and share what’s going on with them. Brooke noted that some new emotional words from the chart have resonated with the kids, and now they incorporate them in their writing and dialogue. This session also includes a discussion of strategies kids can use to get themselves out of the more negative zones on the chart.
In between classes, kids run around the school, and during class, teachers have access to the Mind and Body Room, which contains trampolines, small dumbbells, ropes, and other equipment that encourages vigorous activity followed by breathing routines. In the afternoons, the kids meet back up with Brooke for a mindfulness and SEL class that has covered topics like empathy, assertive communication, mindful breathing, mindful eating, tai chi, understanding brain chemistry, handling mistakes, recognizing emotions, and sexual education preparation.
“Students have 45 minutes daily with these SEL topics, and their ability to connect and grow around our social struggles has been inspiring,” says Brooke. “One student recently stated, ‘Seeing Kamala Harris succeed and become our new VP has shown me that I need to be more inclusive. There are no girls in our groups when we play video games after school, and I need to change that.’”
Brooke also described how a few girls created a project for class that used an obstacle course to illustrate the process of how poor brain health forms and then how treatment works to help heal the brain. And multiple students have shared stories with her about how the class helped them reevaluate how they respond to times when their younger siblings try their patience. “One student told me how she now responds to her crying 3-year-old sister with hugs instead of yelling.”
The program is so successful that kids have become sad when they miss school because it’s a time where their needs are valued and they feel supported and heard. At DCIS, students take a depression and anxiety survey at the beginning and end of each school year. Thanks to Mente y Movimiento, they no longer have kids in the “red zone” of the survey. Brooke notes, “Because it’s daily and year-after-year, they are really able to build habits and practice them at a point in their lives where they are susceptible to this imprinting.”
Brooke and DCIS connect families with the program, too. Brooke encourages students to create their own videos with social-emotional and physical health activities, and many of them get their families involved. Starting in April 2021, families will be invited to join the kids’ movement workouts on Fridays. “Our school has students from low-income families and some in transitional housing, but there are also some more affluent families, too. It’s a really beautiful mix of kids and families that come together and support each other.”
This holistic approach to mingling child health with education is a smart, strategic, and supportive way to help develop the whole child and instill emotional and personal growth early in life.