WESTMINSTER, Colo. — At Cotton Creek Elementary, students are reading, working through math problems and completing other school assignments, but there is another kind of learning going on as well.
As Stephanie Schoolmeester sat in a classroom with a circle of students around her, she explained they could keep their eyes open or closed for a breathing exercise. These kids are taking a break from their school work to do heart work.
Schoolmeester, a social and emotional specialist and certified teacher, is working with students and staff on emotional health. The goal is to give them tools so kids can more effectively talk about and process their emotions.
Last year, Adams 12 Five Star school district Superintendent, Chris Gdowski saw a need for an emotional health program and brought in Schoolmeester to help roll it out.
"So many times, children are connected to the TV (or) to the phone, but they’re not connected to themselves," Schoolmeester said.
In the classroom, she told the students today's lesson would be on heart breathing.
"When you do the breathing, you’re also calming down your nervous system, calming down your body and also thinking about the things in your life that you’re grateful for," Schoolmeester said.
Brendan Chalker, a student, said doing these exercises makes him feel good.
"It makes me able to be more brave for things I probably wouldn’t have been able to do without it," he said.
Students have already seen results.
"I started out with really bad anxiety when we started SEL and Connection Circle," said student Reghan Johnson. "It slowly got put into this small filing cabinet at the bottom of my heart and it’s not really there anymore."
The group started a connection circle, targeting kids who needed friends.
"What I’m probably most proud of is probably just seeing how all the kids came together and throughout the three weeks that we did this, more and more kids had friends," said student Ella Roberts.
The program is now expanding through the Adams 12 Five Star School District.
"In my heart, this is the most important thing we can do in the world. Children are everything," Schoolmeester said.
Heart work — it's not their conventional assignment, but it might just be the most meaningful lesson these students get.
Molly Hendrickson anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. She also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Molly on Facebook here and Twitter here . To nominate a hero in your life, click here .