Coman Hill students inhaled deeply through their noses before pretending they were blowing on a hot pizza to cool it down. They learned that when you get upset, your fists, your face, and even your jaw gets tight, and your shoulders begin to rise, and they practiced being in the moment.
The lessons came during workshops conducted by artist-educator Robert Rivest in late March during Coman Cares Week, the annual celebration of everyone’s unique identity and the entire school community.
Mr. Rivest led classroom workshops to help students understand their emotions and help them move through the harder ones. There was movement, mime and mindfulness, and lots of smiles and laughter.
In a workshop with kindergartners, students learned and practiced many different breathing exercises, like cooling the pizza or pretending to blow out birthday candles and bubbles so they could learn how to calm down if they get angry or upset. They did meditation and explored emotions through mime.
Mr. Rivest shared an important saying. “Before I start my exercises to help me feel more energy and yet feel relaxed, I usually say, ‘I am here now,’” he told Mary- Ann Shkreli’s kindergartners, who repeated the phrase. Why does he say this? It’s because usually when we’re thinking, he said, we’re often focusing on the past or the future, and not what’s going on right now. “Mindfulness helps us think I am here now and you’re aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it,” he said.
The workshops throughout the week were intended to give students tools to handle their feelings.
“I’m teaching them mindfulness, different ways they can use breathing and moving, even smiling and laughing, to help change their mood and to help them notice when they’re starting to get upset and how to change that with their breathing,” he explained after the workshop.
The different techniques are to “help them feel their feelings so that others don’t have to” and to handle situations more thoughtfully.
“Part of it is preventative, to help them be in a calmer state to start off with, and then to help them through the situation and then to recover or bounce back, so it deals with resiliency,” he added.
Principal MaryBeth Crupi was thrilled that Coman Hill was able to invite Mr. Rivest as part of Coman Cares Week, thanks to the generosity of the Byram Hills Education Foundation.
“Robert conducted classroom lessons to help our students manage their emotions and to provide them with strategies to reduce stress and anxiety,” she said. “The breathing techniques can be practiced by all of our students at anytime and within any situation. We are thankful to have had Robert with us to help nurture our students’ emotional wellness.”
As Mr. Rivest visited classrooms during the week of March 25, students enjoyed the rest of the Coman Cares Week activities. The event shines a spotlight on every student’s unique abilities and focuses on acceptance and inclusion to encourage students to appreciate each other.
On Monday, the schoolwide assembly that featured faculty and staff members performing humorous skits was a smashing success. The Coman Hill performers, including Ms. Crupi, acted out school scenarios like sitting on the Buddy Bench or playing tag to remind students to always be respectful, responsible and safe.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Byram Hills PTSA parent volunteers read books on self-acceptance to our youngest students. The kindergartners heard “Spork,” the first graders enjoyed “I’m Gonna Like Me,” and “Small Saul” was read to the second graders.
After listening to their story, students finished the prompt “I am … ” with a word and a picture on an oversized sticky note. The students described themselves in many ways, including happy, athletic, nice, adventurous and curious. The colorful projects will be displayed around the school.
The week, which concluded with a rousing dance party, was a hit with students.
“They really love it,” Ms. Crupi said. “They truly enjoy getting to celebrate who they are. The week is about promoting acceptance and individuality while also working to foster their emotional health and wellness. Coman Cares Week is a terrific and uplifting event for the entire Coman Hill community.”