How We Hosted a Mindfulness Day at Our School

Monday, April 29, 2019
Last year, we hosted our first Career Fair ("How to Host a Career Fair Without Losing Your Mind"). As a school counseling department, we decided to try an every-other-year approach with these two events because they require a lot of man-power to organize, facilitate, and successfully pull off. 

This spring, we hosted our first ever Mindfulness Day. (Ours, specifically, was called "Mindful Generals Day" after our school mascot.) We got the idea for this event after our beginning-of-the-year needs assessment overwhelmingly showed our students needed and wanted help with mental health resources; they were stressed and anxious. The goals of this event were to promote positive mental health awareness and encourage positive stress relief strategies. We had almost 900 students come through our gym doors to check out what we had going on. Before the event, we advertised on social media channels, school announcements, and our cafeteria announcement screen. The day before and the day of, we danced in the hall with the silent disco headphones (let me tell you-- that drew in some looks. Have I mentioned I don't mind embarrassing myself in front of students?).

Our entire event was hosted in our high school's gym during our 90 minute third block class/lunch. Students could walk through during their lunch, and teachers were also encouraged to bring their classes down for a "mini field trip" to explore our Mindfulness Day. It was on a Friday... because who doesn't love something FUN on a Friday?  

Our Mindfulness Day consisted of 7 stations: 

1- Yoga: a friend of a friend volunteered her time to come in and host yoga. We put this station in a corner of the gym facing away from a lot of the other activities. Our athletic director lent us a huge stack of yoga mats from the gym classes. We laid about 25 mats out. I think the biggest success of this station was that students were coming and going. The crowd would ebb and flow. The yoga teacher said this was her favorite group she ever had! She said high school students were more mature than the middle school students she has led before, and they seemed like they really wanted to be there. I think the freedom of choosing to participate in the experience made all the difference.

2- Art Therapy: One of our school counselors oversaw both the yoga and art therapy stations, so they were next to each other in our gym's set up. Since she just had to sort of oversee the yoga station, she had the freedom to sit at the neighboring art therapy table. She had coloring mandala pages with colored pencils, crayons, and markers. She brought clipboards, so students could spread out, sit on the floor, and get comfortable if they wanted. I also saw students take the coloring pages with them for later. (If I was in high school, I would have totally taken these sheets for later... I'm such a doodler!)

3- Face Painting: We decided on all of these stations as a department, and one of our counselors came up this idea. She partnered with an art teacher who had hosted a face painting station at a spirit week event before, and she also enlisted students to help paint. We had a budget that we used for our overall program, and some of that money went towards purchasing face paint. She had other basic materials with this like cups of water, small paint brushes, and baby wipes for mistakes. This was one of our most popular stations! It was located right inside the door when students walked in, and they loved crowding around just to see what was being painted even if they weren't getting something themselves. 

4- Practicing Gratitude: I made these foldable gratitude journals for a "Practicing Gratitude" station. The only prep was black and white copies ahead of time. Students could assemble, staple, write, decorate, draw. There are guiding questions for reflecting on practicing gratitude. The counselor at this station brought a stapler, colored pencils, markers, and pens. It was a quieter, more reflective station, but it was attractive to some none-the-less. We also had thank you notes available here. You could grab some packs of thank you notes from the Dollar Store or the dollar bins at Target. (I keep a stash of these in my desk anyways; you never know when you'll need them.) I also have some downloadable thank you freebie postcards here. 

5- Play Therapy: For this station, we simply set up legos, play doh, and puzzles! We put a few of the puzzles on some left over yoga mats, and we were sure to include the box next to the pieces so students knew their end goal. On the ground to the side of the main table, we had jump ropes and hula hoops. This gave students something to do with their hands and or something physical to do that was also FUN! I loved seeing students laughing, playing, and BEING KIDS. So infrequently do they get to detach from their phones and straight up PLAY. I heard kids nervous laughing at first saying, "I'm too old to be playing with these!" ... which is totally not true! There were crowds here the entire time!

6- Puppies and Popsicles: We found a local organization of therapy dogs, and the volunteers were SO excited to bring their dogs to our school! We put this one outside the gym for obvious reasons. Our cafeteria has big, glass windows out front, so students could see the crowds and sense the excitement without even knowing what was going on for Mindful Generals Day. It seemed as though everyone took a lap outside during their lunch to snag a popsicle and pet a pup! We purchased cheap popsicles with part of our budget. Our cafeteria manager kept them frozen for us in the cafeteria freezer before the event, and he even provided coolers and ice for us to hand them out from. (Something I learned on the back end though... you may want to check your district's policies on "therapy dogs" versus "service dogs," and if they have any stipulations on what type of animals you can have in your school.)

7- Silent Disco: This was my station! To be honest, this is the one I was MOST excited about! This was also the most expensive event we hosted. I ordered all of the equipment from Quiet Events. I got a few quotes from a couple different places, and I was a little nervous because I really didn't have any direct connection to anyone who had used Quiet Events before. It was a smooth transaction process, and the materials arrived one week before which was great-- I didn't want to be worried about it all not coming in time. I took everything out of the box two days before (probably should have done this sooner, but you know how that goes...) and, luckily, everything was there. It came with a folder of instructions, pictures, and links to videos to set up. To be honest, it was so easy that I didn't even need the videos. You could use your iPhone with an aux cord into the transmitter or your computer. I had a "DJ friend" come for the actual event, but I could have easily done it myself with a good Spotify playlist like this one. We had one table where the DJ had his equipment set up; students didn't even notice him. On the other table, we had some headphones already turned on and set to the channel ready to go. We had a marker board with instructions: 1- trade your ID for some headphones, 2- adjust the volume on the side, 3- DANCE AND HAVE FUN!, and 4- return your headphones to collect your ID. We used student IDs (because they all wear them) for collateral, but you could easily use something else that works for your school or students. I was worried about not having a set space roped off or something, but, like yoga, the flexibility of the whole event made it easy to drop in and try it out. Sometimes you'd look over and a line dance would be happening in silence and other times there would be jumping in unison. It was hilarious to watch and participate in. When all was said and done, I didn't lose any headphones (score!) and pack up and return was super easy. I could had the option to call FedEx to pick up at my location or drop off at a FedEx pick up station the next business day. I can't speak highly enough about Quiet Events and how easy it was to put together such a fun atmosphere!

8- Resources: Social Workers and Mental Health Counselor: We had our two school social workers (one speaks Spanish) and our resident mental health counselor at our Mindfulness Day. They each hosted their own table with information to hand out to students. Many students stopped by and took something "for a friend."

Follow up with students:
We gathered all psycho educational materials for students and put them in a Google classroom for them to access digitally. We had small fliers on each table with the Google classroom join code. We also sent this out via Remind and email. In the Google classroom, students have access to everything they saw at the Mindfulness Day and more! For example, all of the half sheet take-aways from my Mindfulness Bulletin Board were available to students on the Google classroom. I also posted the Gratitude Journal Flipbook for students to print and do on their own time if they wanted. Handouts and information from our social workers and mental health counselor were on there. We had write ups about each station, the purpose behind it, and some follow up also posted in the digital classroom.

The overall perception data that has come from our event has been overwhelmingly positive. Our district did a little feature video and posted it on their Facebook page to which we received many praise-worthy comments... other students and parents want it at their schools! Students ran back to their classrooms to tell their teachers about the event if they went at lunch without their class. One student posted on Instagam "this is the happiest I've been all year!" with a picture of her and her friends eating popsicles outside. Another told me at the silent disco "this is the best thing y'all could have done EVER!" The positive reports from this event are enough to motivate me to put something like this together EVERY year... even if it is a lot of work. This event met a direct need from our initial school-wide needs assessment. Students finished the day in a better better head space than they started which just makes it all worth it!

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