When a student’s mental health starts affecting their grades, it can be hard for teachers to write off. Science teacher Clare Sobetski has taken this matter into her own hands in her first year at Cleveland.
Sobetski facilitates a weekly meditation period she calls “intention setting” in her classes. It is similar – but not identical – to a practice known as “mindfulness.”
“The first time I see students in the week, we take a little bit of time for some breathing exercises and for them to take stock of their physical and mental health coming into the school week,” said Sobetski. “Then to set an intention whether or not it’s something academic that they want to achieve for the week.”
While her students only practice meditation once a week, Sobetski still sees significant benefits.
“Just before and after doing the intention setting on a Monday or Tuesday, I definitely see calming of the class energy,” she said.
Sobetski believes it allows her students to come together as a community on a week-to-week basis before jumping directly into the content. Her efforts to improve students’ mental health in the classroom are supported by the school’s mental health clinic.
“I think that this is the hardest age range for people because you’re trying to figure out who you are as well as trying to be successful academically,” said Cleveland’s Mental Health Counselor Sara Maupin. “So, I think the students’ mental health concerns, emotional health concerns can really get in the way of their academic success if they’re struggling emotionally or mentally.”
Maupin applauds the usage of meditation techniques to tackle mental health.
“I think teachers also realize how stressed out students are and that many of them come with issues just of being adolescent, but also family and personal issues, and to teach the student how to kind of relax themselves, get in touch with themselves and tune out all the distractions is very important,” said Maupin.
Earlier this year, Head Nurse Sue Porter, along with help from the administration, attempted to implement a mandatory mindfulness time during advisory for students, but the initiative failed due to lack of interest from staff and students.
“I think it has to be authentic for whoever’s doing it,” said Sobetski. “I think for the different individuals that I’ve seen implement mindfulness in their class, it’s been most successful when the teacher has really bought into it.”
Looking to the future, it’s important to remember the importance of mental health, especially during this time when the news is full of bad or sad incidents happening around the world.
“We all know how important physical health is, and … with the tragedies that have happened, with just life and how stressful things have gotten, that we realize we have to take as good care of our mental health as we do our physical health, and it’s all part of the whole picture of being a happy person,” said Maupin.
For Sobetski, it’s not only about teaching students how to handle stress, but also encouraging them to seek help when they need it.
“I think that the best thing that we can do as educators is be really strong role models,” she said. “To me, a piece of that is acknowledging that most individuals will struggle with their own mental health challenges and that there’s nothing wrong or bad about seeking help. If I can be a small part in modeling that, that’s part of doing my job.”