TAMPA, Fla — As mental health issues continue to impact kids, many school districts are taking their own approaches to help.
According to the CDC, last year 37% of high school students said they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic; 44% of them said they felt sad and hopeless a lot.
IDEA Public schools, a local charter school in Tampa, hired a mindfulness coordinator tasked with one specific job — to help the kids feel better. Avoiding non-descriptive words like good or bad, students in Mr. Marco Mooyoung’s class express how they feel.
“Welcome to Mindfulness today. How’s everyone doing? Good. We’re going to do a quick vibe check,” he said to his students. “There is no wrong or right emotion. An emotion is how you feel, right or wrong.”
Mr. Moo, as the students call him, said his goal is to help kids process their thoughts and emotions throughout the day.
“They’re taught the academics easy — read and write from an early age,” he said. “But, how many times do we sit down before they get into school and talk about how to deal with their emotions? Your emotions affect your mental health.”
Yoga is the mindfulness activity he has students do in class, breathing techniques are another. Mr. Mooyoung said he first likes to build trust with his students and work them into what mindfulness is and how it can benefit them.
“I actually became the mascot at the pep rally, running around as the mascot, I volunteered to take the pictures after the games so they got to trust me,” he said.
He does that each year and said it typically takes about two months.
“He’ll buy you lunch and stuff, it’s to the point where we feel him as a friend,” said Brandyn Mask, a sixth-grade student at IDEA Public Schools. His classmate, Nelanyah Horace agreed. “Yesterday he bought me sour patch kids, Twix and Airheads.”
Both said Mr. Moo sticks his neck out for them a lot, and if they’re feeling anxious or upset and need a 15-minute breather, they can tell their teacher that and Mr. Moo will either come to them to talk or they’ll head to his classroom.
“There’s certain points in the day some students have outbreaks or just need to reset, so they’ll go there and the yoga is supposed to help them self regulate and reset and take a breather. And then after that, they go back to class,” Mask said.
Mr. Mooyoung said sometimes that includes not talking at all. That’s when he sends them for a few laps around the parking lot. He wants students to feel empowered, and know there are several ways to process things.
“A lot of times when we’re helping people we become very egotistical to where 'my way' works. I need you to breathe and count to 10! And you’re gonna be relaxed,” he said.
But that isn’t how it works. He knows first hand. He grew up with Dyslexia but had no idea until he was much older. He said now he understands why he was frustrated and angry. He said that first hand knowledge helps him stay grounded so he can help others.