Chartiers Valley Primary students benefit from special program
Ariella Renk, 7, beamed with excitement as she danced to the music and flopped her arms wide in the air.
“I’m a seagull,” she exclaimed, with a giggle, as she moved to the beat.
Next, Ariella and classmate Christian Kelly, 7, both second graders at Chartiers Valley Primary School, played the drums while learning to follow directions. Christian knew exactly what music he wanted to hear in the background, so that’s what music teacher Sally Shollenberger played.
“Great job buddy,” she said, as high fives went around the room.
Inside Chartiers Valley Primary School, Shollenberger spent 20 minutes working closely with Ariella and Christian, during the “Mindfulness: Music to Calm” class, which debuted this year.
During that 20 minutes, they were the focus and their needs were met.
That’s the point of the mindfulness classes added at Chartiers Valley Primary this year, said Principal Anissa Rosenwald. Students of all walks of life can find connections through other avenues, like music, art or yoga.
“We’re hoping they’ll be able to make connections with their teachers and with their peers that they might not otherwise be able to make,” she said.
Students today are coming to school from a diverse background, Rosenwald said. You don’t know what’s happening at home, or what baggage they might be carrying with them to school. Sometimes, they’re “not coming in as equipped as they should be.”
“It’s our job, as educators here, to make sure we’re meeting the students where they are and taking them to the next level,” she said.
In January, when school counselor Megan Mouas started her role, Rosenwald, a certified yoga instructor, found yoga training for Mouas to take that she could bring to the primary school.
Mouas, who already was practicing yoga with her sister, learned to teach students relaxation, along with breathing techniques and the importance of gaze and breather to calming one’s body.
She started teaching “Mindfulness through Movement” in January. Between three and seven students this year now participate in a 40 minute yoga session, where Mouas or teacher Scott Vaughan teach skills that they can carry into the classroom to remain calm.
“There’s breathing techniques that we use and they have fun with their body poses. We do those as well,” Mouas said. “There are great relaxation strategies.”
The school also added an “Art expressions” class, taught by Sharlynn Mavrich.
The teachers, who Rosenwald said jumped at the opportunity to share something new with students, say the classes are all about teaching students to be in the moment.
“There’s so many different avenues that we can take to put them in that moment,” Shollenberger said. “It could be sports. It could be music. It could be, you know, their favorite academic class. It could be math. It could be robotics. We want the children to be actively engaged in the place that they are at that moment. That’s really what mindfulness is about.”
The small class size allows the students to get more individual attention. They range from 20 minutes to 40 minutes and are built into the schedule.
“It’s very, very small, very targeted, very individualized and all of the children can get attention,” Shollenberger said.
Some students need additional movement. In these classes, they’re getting that.
The students, who come from all levels of learning from special needs to regular education to families with lower socioeconomic status, could remain in the class for a semester, or all year, depending on their needs, Rosenwald said. Students are selected for the classes based on their needs.
“With that social and emotional learning, we’re teaching them something that they might not be coming to school with and we know it will set them up for success down the line,” she said.
Inside the classroom, on the students faces, it was evident they were enjoying the special class just for them.
As Ariella and Christian learned to wash their hands, Shollenberger sang them a song that taught them the best techniques for scrubbing appropriately.
As the class went on, Ariella’s smile got wider and brighter. Having a special class just for her and a classmate made her happy.
“It seems amazing,” she said. “My favorite part was the drums.”
For Christian, the class was better than others, because he got to do things he enjoyed. That led to less frustration.
“I don’t quit anymore,” he said.
Kristina Serafini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kristina at 412-324-1405 4-digit 6405, [email protected] or via Twitter @KristinaS_Trib.