In 2014 Rev. Veronica Valles started teaching the tools to breathe, focus, and learn about self-efficacy to a first-grade class at Alex Sanger Elementary in Dallas, Texas. She practiced with those students for the entire school year, and since attending Omega's 2015 Mindfulness & Education Conference on scholarship, she has expanded her teaching to Victor H. Hexter Elementary. She teaches almost 200 kids each week, working with first and second graders and small groups in kindergarten, third, and fifth grades, too.
“Being at that conference with more than 150 other participants was life changing for me,” Valles told Omega. “It was amazing to hear shared practices, be with other people in this field, and engage in one-on-one conversations. It was such a catalyst for me because I realized I’m not alone. It helped me decide this is the direction I want to go. I want to take peace tools to schools.”
Rev. Valles defines mindfulness as “a moment to moment awareness, being present to what is without judgment.”
“The work is truly transformative,” said Jennifer Jackson, the principal at Hexter Elementary. “All of our teachers whose students have worked with Rev. Valles have reported an increase in the students’ ability to focus and concentrate.”
Rev. Valles teaches at public schools in East Dallas, where the students are primarily Hispanic and many parents work two jobs. She says that Texas schools have a lot of testing and that the stress levels of the kids, teachers, and administrators are high.
Along with sitting in silence for a few minutes, Rev. Valles teaches tools that kids can understand, like blowing dandelions, a practice that helps them get in touch with their feelings. Kids make a fist, imagine their feeling, and then take a deep breath and blow into their hand like they're blowing a dandelion, opening their fingers to release that energy and relax into the moment.
“First and second graders love dandelions,” Rev. Valles said. “In this exercise, they learn that energy is not good or bad. They can breathe through it and make a choice.”
Rev. Valles also teaches about energy dials, which helps kids to tune into the energy in their body. “We all get wiggly squiggly, we just have to be mindful about it,” she says.
Her goal is to work in a third school and to continue to expand her program so she can walk with the kids from kindergarten to high school graduation.
“I want to create a culture of mindfulness,” she said, “where within a generation this becomes the norm. Kids will have tools to walk through the rest of their lives with.”
© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies