WESTON – This year, students at Weston Elementary can enjoy a quiet, outdoor green space — a meditation garden — where they can visit with friends, practice mindfulness exercises and yoga, read or simply enjoy nature. The outdoor space — which is nestled between the wings of Weston Elementary and populated with stands of birch, native plants and raised vegetable beds — evolved from a garden space designed by Revi and Wausau Made at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.
“Originally, we planned to use the space as an outdoor classroom for students, and Revi kindly offered to design the space for us in collaboration with our Environmental Committee and Mrs. Damrow, head of Environmental Education,” said Trena Loomans, Weston Elementary assistant principal. To that end, students enrolled in the Look Out Kindergarten Classes during the DCE Summer Program planted the raised vegetable beds. Throughout the summer, under the direction of Mrs. Johanek, students planted, weeded and watered the gardens as part of their science curriculum.
As the 2017-18 year began, the garden space evolved from solely serving as an outdoor classroom to serving as a meditation garden as well. Across the nation, schools are implementing Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, or PBIS, a schoolwide disciplinary system designed to create positive school environments by defining, teaching and recognizing appropriate social behavior within and beyond the classroom.
“At Weston Elementary, every teacher, staff and administrative member is responsible for modeling positive behavior for our students and then rewarding students for acting in kind. Rather than focusing on punishment, we focus on positive recognition,” Loomans said. “We’ve integrated mindfulness and meditation into our school day. I have seen many of our staff using chimes to refocus students in their classrooms, meditation music as students work and breathing techniques to help calm the classroom.”
The school’s PBIS committee suggested the outdoor classroom integrate the PBIS techniques used in the classroom, and students and teachers embraced the idea. To ensure students understood the purpose of the meditation garden and behavioral expectations when using the space, students collaborated with teachers to create a meditation garden video and placed outdoor banners in the area.
Students have reacted positively. A survey of students led to the following observations:
- “It gives me a quiet place to sit and visit with my friends.”
- “If I want to be alone and calm down, I can go and look at the flowers for a while.”
- “Sometimes I just want to go to the garden where it is quieter and I can read with a book buddy.”
- “My friends and I practice yoga in the garden because there are no kids running around to bump into us.”
- “I like to sit in the meditation garden and feel the breeze.”
- “I like to listen to the leaves on the trees.”
- “Sometimes I go there when I am sad to think and I feel better when I leave.”
“Teachers continue to use the meditation garden area for their science curriculum, but they also use the quiet space to teach students social-emotional strategies that can help them stay focused, reduce stress and anxiety, and build self-confidence,” Loomans said.
As for the future? Pat Kluz, Rothschild Garden Club, is donating funds to provide the students with seeds, meditation supplies, birdhouses, bird feeders and a butterfly garden.
“We are very grateful for all the help we have received from the community and students. What better way to combine science and stress relief than birds, butterflies and blue sky?”
To see the meditation garden video, find DC Everest Weston Elementary on Facebook.