Windsor Central Wellness Initiative & Mindful SELF Program
The Windsor Central Wellness Initiative (WCWI) is a collaborative effort of the Ottauquechee Health Foundation (OHF) and the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District (WCMUUSD) to bring wellness programming to the students, families, school staff, and community members.
The WCWI seeks to address rising levels of psychosocial stress experienced by today’s youth, due in part to pervasive digital media and pressing sociopolitical issues, including gun violence, political conflict, and concerns about climate change. The American Psychological Association estimates that a majority of today’s Generation Z are burdened by high stress, which negatively impacts mental, physical, and emotional health.
Many wellness modalities exist to protect against stress. The ancient practice of mindfulness – popularized by contemporary teachers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, MD – has been shown to help improve attention, reduce anxiety, improve mood, increase immunity, and strengthen cognitive function. Every year, more schools across the country and beyond are integrating mindfulness and other contemplative practices into their school’s culture. Recognizing the powerful shift that mindfulness education creates, the Mindful SELF (Social Emotional Learning Foundations) program was launched in several of our district’s schools three years ago. The larger goal was to improve students’ social and emotional wellbeing. Led by mindfulness educator, Susan Mordecai, the program reached more than 400 students in five area schools. Student reports revealed improved mindful attention, compassion, kindness, and capacity to learn.
Over the coming three to five years, the WCWI will build upon the success of the Mindful SELF program by providing multi-tiered interventions that address the challenges of traumatic stress. The tiers, offered by an experienced roster of health and wellness professionals, will be rolled out simultaneously, thereby creating an overall learning environment that supports wellbeing. The tiers will be offered as follows:
- Tier 1: Northeastern Family Institute (NFI) Trauma-informed Schools Program (TISP)
- This three to five year program utilizes the experts at the NFI Vermont Trauma-informed Schools Program (TISP) and aims to increase workforce knowledge about the effects of traumatic stress, improve wellness, increase knowledge and implementation of trauma-informed practices and school-wide strategies, and integrate a cultural and equity lens to reduce disparities that may exist in district practices. The multi-year plan is customized by David Melnick in collaboration with select school and community stakeholders.
- Tier 2: Integrated Parent, Caregiver, and Teacher Workshops and Trainings
- This second tier will expose parents/caregivers and teachers to multiple wellness modalities through monthly workshops. Wellness providers from the region will offer wellness workshops on topics that include art therapy, equine therapy, yoga, and mindfulness meditation. This Tier will also include Jeff Levin’s acclaimed School Reconnection Project/Digital Addiction program to address the unique stresses of our digital age.
- Tier 3: Direct Community and Classroom Trainings and Support
- Utilizing the innovative model behind the Vermont Family Based Approach (VFBA), and the Strengthening Families framework, OHF plans to focus on the entire family, recognizing emotional and behavioral health as the key aspect of healthy communities. Mindful SELF Educator, Susan Mordecai, will work directly with preschools, pre-K classrooms, elementary, middle schools, high schools, community organizations, professionals, parents, teachers and other individuals interested in learning how to integrate trauma-informed, mindful practices into their daily work with youth and families.
As a prominent and successful advocate for health in the community, the OHF is well-positioned to collaborate with the WCMUUSD to mobilize positive changes throughout the school system and larger community. OHF has already demonstrated its success as a health promotion organization through programs that include the Good Neighbor Grant Program, the OHF Smiles oral health program, and of course the Mindful SELF program.
The OHF is seeking funding partners to make this effort possible. It is estimated that the complete multi-tier project will require unrestricted donations of over $162,000 for the first year of implementation. A multi-year budget is available upon request. Throughout the course of the program, data will be gathered to track program effectiveness using Mark Friedman’s model of Results-Based Accountability. We hope to demonstrate that these programs: reduce stress levels for students, families, teachers and administrators; increase mindfulness, compassion and attention; and improve academic performance and attendance. By demonstrating a positive impact on academic benchmarks, a case may be made for sustained school district funding.
We believe that the Windsor Central Wellness Initiative (WCWI), delivered as a comprehensive wellness program, will draw needed attention to the importance of stress management and holistic wellbeing. The integrated interventions will equip students with a range of tools that reduce stress, enhance psycho-emotional wellbeing, cultivate resilience and optimize long-term thriving.