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Keep calm and carry on

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 07:23 PM

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While reading, writing and arithmetic might be primary subjects at West Hernando Middle School, also important now are social skills and calming techniques to help with some of those anxieties that youngsters are known to carry.

And while gym class is still offered, students also can be found holding a stretched position during a yoga session, where they also practice their breathing and relaxation techniques.

Combined under the social/personal classes held at the school, middle schoolers — particularly those who may become known to have problems keeping their "cool" or face other various issues in and out of the classroom — are learning how to handle everyday social situations and deal with stress.

In the classroom, they can be found learning through discussions and role play how and why they might react to situations that might upset them — from taking tests to facing bullies.

Teachers talk and guide them through how they should try to handle those scenarios and recognize when their emotions might be about to get the better of them.

Near the gymnasium, a room is set aside for students where yoga instructor Barbara Calautti, who works both with the school district and at Brooksville's Gold's Gym, leads a class showing students the various poses and guides them on how to breathe throughout the various positions.

At the beginning of the semester, she said, many of the boys sneered at the idea of performing yoga. However, now many of them have converted to become fans of the Indian art.

"The kids have really taken to the curriculum and it's great to use it to help them understand how to breathe, calm themselves and relax their bodies," Calautti said. "We don't incorporate any prayer, chants or anything like that. A lot of people misinterpret what yoga is all about. It's a science used to calm both the body and the mind."

Beyond classroom and yoga, students also incorporate technology into their coursework. By hooking a clip to their earlobe, students also can monitor their breathing and pulse rate on the computer and through various software also understand how their bodies are responding to different ways of breathing.

Susan Cooper, a manager who helps students with emotional and behavior disabilities, said students frequently don't realize how stressed and anxious they are until a seemingly small event triggers them to "blow up."

It's why talking to them about their behavior and what can trigger their stress is often a key step in helping them learn how to calm themselves and avoid bad situations.

"It's really all about regulation," Cooper said. "Students walk around stressed all the time until something is triggered and pushes them over the edge."

Sean Franz, West Hernando social/personal teacher, said since fully implementing the program this year, administrators and staff have noticed a significant change in the students, with fewer disciplines and increases in academic achievement.

That's not to say the students don't have a slip-up every now and again, but he said they're improving by being better able to recognize and understand how they're acting.

"Bullying is a big topic among them and this gives them an opportunity to really understand not just their feelings, but how to handle those situations," Franz said. "It's things that they haven't ever really thought about that now hopefully they'll take with them and use outside the classroom."

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