The world today is a very different place for young people to grow up than it was just a few decades ago. Youth today face challenges unimagined in the past. The impact of social media, natural disasters, violence, and terrorism have infiltrated virtually every corner of the world. The frequency of these events, their graphic representation, and the increased exposure to media images are all likely to have an impact on the emotional balance and mental well-being of our young people.
Closer to home, Cape Cod has experienced a traumatic and painful increase in the loss of young people attributed to risky behavior, poor choices, mental health challenges, alcohol and substance abuse, motor vehicle accidents, self-harm, and suicidal behavior. Additionally, recent headlines in local papers have shown the devastating effects of bullying and cyber-bullying to young people within our state. There is no doubt that young people today face perplexing and complex social issues in their daily lives—at a time when their internal resources for emotional coping and self-regulation are less developed, they are particularly vulnerable.
To compound the issue, research shows that most behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues begin in childhood and adolescence.
In a recent survey of Cape Cod students, participants reported:
- Increased anxiety
- Challenges with listening and paying attention in class
- Problems getting along with others at school
- Trouble being kind to others
- Challenges calming oneself down when upset
- Difficulty thinking before acting when upset
- Problems getting to sleep at night
About Calmer Choice
What began as a grassroots effort from a group of concerned parents & community members in 2010 has now become an innovative, one-of-a-kind non-profit organization that has operated in 28 schools and more than a dozen community-based organizations across Cape Cod.
Since inception, Calmer Choice has become a thought leader in the area of secular mindfulness in education and is increasingly viewed as a catalyst for creating positive change in school climates. We have impacted more than children in eight school districts, reaching approximately 20% of all students and families living on Cape Cod.
We have a goal of serving more than 30,000 students by the end of the 2018-2019 school year.
Being Part of the Solution
Calmer Choice partners with schools and community organizations across Cape Cod to deliver a low-cost prevention program that equips children with a suite of skills to increase inner resilience, reduce the impact of stress, manage emotional responses, learn self-control and increase their sense of well-being.
Calmer Choice helps schools integrate its program into their school culture by training school staff to deliver Calmer Choice programming directly and by providing resources for educators and parents to develop the same inner skills being taught in the classroom. In short, Calmer Choice aims to impact the culture and outcomes of an entire school and community, working one person at time toward a world where people lead lives of kindness and compassion toward themselves and others.
Over the last 7 years, Calmer Choice partnered with researchers from Tufts, Yale, MIT and Harvard to study the impact of its program with over 2,000 students. Evaluations support the effectiveness of the program, as well as demonstrate the feasibility, efficacy and applicability of teaching these skills in public schools.
Researchers identified many ways in which both students and classroom teachers benefit from the program. Specifically, after Calmer Choice, students report an increase in emotional awareness, an increase in ability to calm down when upset and anxious, and improvements in impulse control, ability to pay attention in class, and ability to fall asleep at night. Most importantly, students with the greatest need for these skills actually make the greatest gains.
In comparison to matched control groups, Calmer Choice participants significantly decrease anxiety, improve emotional regulation, and executive function—and improvements are maintained over the school year.
Additionally, students with higher levels of mindfulness perceive a more supportive school environment and are happier overall. Calmer Choice students were involved in the first study ever conducted using brain scans (fMRI) with youth that provides scientific evidence that a school-delivered mindfulness-based program can enhance attention and reduce stress. MIT researchers found Calmer Choice effectively enhances sustained attention in middle-school students and positively changes brain connectivity1, as well as reduces amygdala reactivity to fear and stress. (1C. Bauer, personal communication, December 2, 2017)
The Impact of Calmer Choice
This is where we make our contribution. Calmer Choice delivers an in-school, low-cost, preventative effort that equips children with a suite of skills to learn self-control, increase inner resilience, reduce the impact of stress, manage emotional responses better, and increase their sense of well-being.
Calmer Choice is an 8-week program that is implemented for 20 minutes twice a week for elementary school students and once a week for 45 minutes to middle and high school students.
During each session, students are guided through our innovative programming where:
- Students learn how to direct their attention to their experience, i.e. focusing on breathing, listening, kindness, gratitude, and happiness
- Students and teachers learn how these skills are like strength training for the brain and have been shown to rewire neurological pathways that make paying attention, sustaining concentration and regulating emotion easier
- Lesson topics also include brain science and stress physiology, the five senses, body awareness, mind-body connection, emotional awareness, perspective taking, optimism and understanding and compassionately handling difficult emotions
The conceptual framework that guides Calmer Choice programming is grounded in current academic and scientific research on the benefits of social emotional learning, coupled with mindful awareness training for cognitive, emotional, physical, and social well-being and health.