Ask any of the Ellison Bees how the brain works, and they’ll explain it using terms like prefrontal cortex and amygdala with ease.
“Your prefrontal cortex helps you make good decisions,” said third grader Cooper Writer, “but when you flip your lid and get upset, the amygdala takes over.”
The elementary school is taking part in a social emotional health pilot program this year, with students and staff focusing on the brain and how emotions can affect thoughts, actions, and the learning environment.
Imagine shaking a snow globe full of glitter. You can’t fully see what’s inside until the glitter calms down. Now imagine your emotions are that glitter, affecting your ability to see and navigate a situation.
One of the goals of the pilot program, called Mind Over Matter, is to provide children with tools to help manage those emotions and behaviors.
“Not all emotions or problems are the same, just like the pieces of glitter,” said Delia Soto, Ellison vice principal. “And they don’t disappear and go away, but you start to calm down, think, and see other things.”
Soto is leading the effort on her campus and helped train Ellison staff over the summer. The district developed a program guide that includes staff development, morning meanings, instruction about social emotional learning skills, and calm down strategies. Each class was provided materials for one lesson a week and has a “mind over matter” box that includes tools students can use to take a break and calm down if needed.
“It’s not a place you go to if you’re in trouble,” said kindergarten student Camille James. “It’s where you can go and relax.”
Some students have even taken the effort home, making their own glitter bottles.
“The glitter settling and moving around just seems to calm me down,” said third grader Lauren Voigt.
Classes start their days with morning circles, a chance to connect as a group and talk about their feelings. On one Monday morning, a first grader shard that he was sad because his father had to go away for a work trip. Another student was excited to go the Learning Tree program after school that week. One class discussed what they will miss about a classmate who is leaving and moving away. Other classes were listening to soothing music and focusing on calming breaths.
“Mind Over Matter is about building relationships and making our kids feel like part of the community and understanding how their actions affect others,” Soto said. “It’s how we really know our kids and these are skills that everyone needs, even adults. It’s not a counselor issue or an administrator issue, it’s all of us together as educators.”
The other schools in the pilot program are Cole and Thornton elementary schools.