Sandals Foundation introduces engagement programme in western schools

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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Keeping children focused both inside and outside the classroom can be a challenge, even for the most seasoned educator and the most well-intentioned parent.

For that reason, Sandals Foundation — the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International — has engaged noted health coach Natalie Murray to execute the pilot of a student engagement programme, known as Brain Breaks, in several schools across the island.

“Brain Breaks is about equipping teachers and parents with methods to bring more focus into the classroom,” said Murray. “With Brain Breaks, teachers have the ability to either bring a child's energy levels up or bring them down, based on what is happening in the classroom.”

She noted that Brain Breaks incorporates movement that stimulates children's bodies and their neural systems so that they are better able to focus. The programme engages teachers, students and parents, introducing them to various techniques and materials that will help with keeping children focused throughout the day.

Going through the Brain Breaks resource booklet, copies of which each participating school received following the training, Murray pulled on key exercises then discussed and demonstrated them for the teachers and parents.

She noted that scientists speak to the value of introducing four primary elements into their classrooms: grounding, self-control, awareness of the environment, and readiness to participate in the class; and said they can be achieved through some simple tools such as good posture and good breathing exercises in the learning environment.

Murray advised teachers to first conduct an assessment of their classes and journal their findings, then continue to update their journals to measure the impact of the activities/skills learned.

The pilot programme started with parents, teachers and students at Whitehouse Basic School, Culloden Early Childhood Institution, and Kings Primary in Whitehouse, before moving on to West End Infant School, West End Early Childhood Institution, and Mount Airy Primary and Junior High School in Negril. It will continue in schools in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay in the coming weeks.

Executive director of Sandals Foundation Heidi Clarke spoke to the rationale for introducing the programme.

“Over the past nine years, we have worked with over 100 schools across the Caribbean to help improve their infrastructure and resources to create a conducive learning environment for our students. But even with that support, we also must work to ensure that our students remain engaged and focused. With Brain Breaks and the resources and techniques that come along with the programme, we hope to be able to give parents and teachers some valuable tools to enrich the children's learning experience,” Clarke said.

Sessions for the parents also highlighted the need for proper nutrition and exercising emotional awareness when dealing with children.

Denver Moulton, who takes care of three grandchildren, said she particularly enjoyed the session as it provided useful tips for things as simple as getting children to eat their vegetables.

Brain Breaks is endorsed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Early Childhood Commission, and is being executed with funds raised from the Sandals Foundation and Island Routes Reading Road Trip. Each year, monies raised through the Reading Road Trip are put towards improved learning tools and training for local schools. This year, the foundation was able to purchase workbooks, readers, educational games and other manipulatives, as well as facilitate Brain Break training and teacher guides for participating schools.

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