October 8th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
By Colleen Sparks
In a time with rampant social media use, mass shootings and political turmoil, teenagers can easily get overwhelmed with stress, and they might not have the tools to tame their tension.
Hamilton High School is tackling the issue by offering teens a safe, peaceful place to get support with its new Mindfulness Center, scheduled to open Oct. 17.
Students will be able to relax in 20 bean bag chairs in a room with miniature sand Zen gardens, therapeutic coloring books, puzzles, inspirational quotes posted all over the center and two water fountains.
Plants and dim lighting will enhance the peaceful feeling of the Mindfulness Center, according to Rajani Rastogi, licensed master social worker at Hamilton High.
Teens can come to the center to talk to Rastogi, Hamilton licensed master social worker Julianne Haddad or Shelley Geary, a licensed master social worker from Arizona State University.
Every Friday during lunch periods, outside experts will visit the center to talk about and teach yoga, meditation or other topics for wellness.
The rest of the week during lunch, the social workers will encourage meditation and talk about gratitude, self-compassion, stress relief and other topics to help students build strong mental health, Rastogi said.
The Mindfulness Center grew out of conversations Rastogi and Haddad had about the issues students are facing.
“We are seeing an increased number of students that are struggling with suicidal thoughts and anxiety and depression,” Rastogi said. “With teenagers, they are over-stimulated in today’s world with cell phones and all the electronic gadgets.
“It’s so important to help them understand some grounding techniques to focus with mindfulness…being aware of their feelings and emotions, not being stuck on the past and not worrying about the future, really focusing on the here and now to help them improve their current situation. We’re trying to educate students in the school about mindfulness.”
In neighboring Gilbert, Mesquite High School has a Mindfulness and Life Skills Program that is in its second year. The Gilbert Public School District is trying to combat substance abuse by teaching students how to cope with stress.
Mesquite High’s Mindfulness Center, since opening last year, has become a popular place for students to unwind from the pressures of the day, according to district officials.
The school also offers mindfulness training and parent connection classes on communicating with teens, suicide prevention, substance abuse and other topics.
Mesquite High School’s mental health and well-being program was made possible with a $100,000-a-year, three-year competitive grant from the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.
At Hamilton High, the Mindfulness Center has become a reality because of donations from parents in the community, who provided all the supplies and items needed, Rastogi said.
Principal Michael De La Torre provided the room as “he knew we wanted to start a mindfulness program,” she said.
“He has been very supportive,” Rastogi said. “We started with a blank slate. I’m very fortunate to have amazing relationships with the parents in our community and at Hamilton High School.
“I wanted to cry when I saw how everything has come together with the support of our community and parents. It’s just very heartwarming to see when you have an idea and it comes to fruition and it really does take a village.”
She said she and the other social workers want to teach students how to “get centered,” and then they will have tools to use on a daily basis to manage their emotions.
They can learn how anger and other emotions affect their bodies and develop empathy for themselves and others, Rastogi said.
Teachers and other staff members can make referrals during the day for students to visit the Mindfulness Center anytime if they are dealing with panic attacks or “a lot of stress,” Rastogi said.
“We’re always looking at what can we do to provide more services, help students get to a place where they are feeling good about who they are as people,” she said. “I’m very passionate and so excited about this program and we are hoping to help as many kids as possible to just live a happier life and enjoy their high school experience.”