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Long Island school districts practice yoga, meditation to de-stress

A sense of mindfulness is making its way into Long Island classrooms, with educators and students in some districts practicing yoga and meditation, as well as participating in drum circles and acupuncture to foster well-being among children and to improve morale and decrease stress among staff. On Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, a staffers at Murphy Junior High School took part in a drum circle. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

A sense of mindfulness is making its way into some Long Island classrooms, where educators and students are practicing yoga and meditation and participating in acupressure and drum circles to foster well-being.

In the Three Village school district, leaders at R.C. Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook introduced a Winter Wellness Series as a way to improve morale and decrease stress among faculty and staff members.

“It’s very hard being a teacher these days. We are up against a lot,” said school social worker Debbi Rakowsky, who organized the effort. “It is one of those jobs where you are here and making a difference every day and . . . I think you need to be pampered a little and it reflects on the kids.”

One workday last month, soothing music played and an essential oils diffuser scented a break room where a handful of staff members reclined in chairs. A licensed practitioner went from one person to the next, applying acupressure and acupuncture to their shoulders, heads and feet.

The wellness series was launched after a school-based committee looked at ways to improve well-being among staff. There was no cost for bringing in the practitioners, who were district alumni or community members who volunteered for the three sessions, scheduled over the course of a few weeks in February. The sessions included guided meditation and a drum circle.

The Three Village district is not alone. Other efforts across the Island have included an introduction to meditation course in Massapequa and yoga workshops in the Herricks, Mineola and Patchogue-Medford school districts.

Michael J. Hynes, superintendent of Patchogue-Medford, noted that research has shown yoga and meditation techniques lessen anxiety and stress.

“In a culture of constant technology stimulation, it is important to teach children the power of mindfulness,” he said. “Not only our kids . . . but adults, too.”

Rakowsky, who has worked in the Three Village system for 29 years, also is a marriage and family therapist. She is part of the school committee, called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, that looks at ways to change the school climate.

The committee originally focused on anti-bullying, and Rakowsky said the committee decided to take it “a little bit further.”

“I started to notice the staff needed some help as well, she said. “And if we have happy staff members, it trickles down to the kids.”

A former family and consumer services classroom was transformed into a teacher’s break room; before that, the faculty members had eaten lunch in the copy room.

The committee reached out to alumni such as Mark Petruzzi, a licensed acupuncturist and licensed massage therapist based in Port Jefferson who led a session at the end of February.

“From something like this, the benefit is that they are more calm and have a little more energy, so they are more focused and can handle the stresses of every day,” said Petruzzi, who graduated from the district’s high school, Ward Melville, in 1999.

School counselor Joan Zeller said she felt relaxed and refreshed after the session, a feeling that translates into her interaction with students. She has worked for the district for 33 years.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “It makes people feel cared for. It renews people, it re-energizes you and . . . when you get this kind of support, it makes a difference.”

Rakowsky said she expects the series could extend to students as well. Other morale-boosting efforts, such as a food truck for teachers in the spring, are under consideration.

“Winter is hard for a lot of people,” Rakowsky said. “This is a great way to get them a little pick-me-up so they go in re-energized.”

With Michael R. Ebert

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