SUN PRAIRIE — The practice of mindfulness was already gaining ground among students at Bird Elementary School in the Sun Prairie School District.
But the movement got a shot in the arm with a visit by hip hop artist and mindfulness instructor Timothy Scott Jr., who works and performs as JusTme. A resident of the San Francisco Bay area in California, he was at the school through an artist-in- residence program for two weeks this month and will return for one day April 9. His energy and the way he related to the students were infectious.
“It just changed my life … how I’m at school,” fifth-grader Donnell Wilson said. “I say, ‘That’s the bad me and this is the new me.’ I’m going to keep my head straight.”
Donnell said he immediately related to JusTme because he reminds Donnell of a cousin and the mindfulness instructor showed him helpful techniques.
“He makes mindfulness fun,” fifth-grader Allison Schmidt said. “Mindfulness really helps me calm down.”
JusTme also gave the students ways to focus in class and instilled the importance of thinking about positive messages, Allison and fellow student Emlyn Knutson said.
The school brought in JusTme in an effort to reach more students who previously didn’t see mindfulness as being useful, said Judy Thompson, school counselor. His visit was funded by a Sun Prairie Education Foundation grant and J.H. Findorff & Son of Madison.
JusTme collaborated in 2015 with Richard Davidson’s Center for Healthy Minds at UW-Madison to help with a study on the benefits of bringing mindfulness into elementary school classrooms. At Bird, JusTme worked with classes during guidance time and met with small groups of kids. He also has met with staff members and provided them with meaningful practices they can use throughout the day for themselves and with students.
“They are actually learning to calm themselves through these techniques,” Thompson said, “and I’ve seen them doing this.”
The school’s practice of mindfulness started when Lauren Knutson, a mindfulness instructor and parent who currently has three children at the school, wanted to give back in some way to the teachers. So she offered in summer 2016 to show them how they could practice mindfulness and also teach it to their students.
This past summer, Knutson offered advice when a “Mindful Room,” divided into two areas, was created in the school for students and staff to get some peace and quiet and to practice mindful breathing. Fifth-grader Jashawn Rufus said he has used the room to do yoga poses and listen to wave recordings.
Thompson said about 85 percent of Bird classrooms incorporate mindfulness in their day, Thompson said.
“There has been this slow cultivation of mindfulness in the school,” Knutson said.
JusTme, who talked to the kids about how to calm and center themselves, inspired them with his music and positive messages, such as how “it is easier to love others (and) be kind to others if you love yourself,” said Becky Volenec, first-grade teacher.
Taking care of your brain and body is so important for learning, she added, noting JusTme delivers his message in a different way.
At a recent parent-teacher conference night at the school, parents said their kids were talking about his visit, watching his videos at home and teaching them his techniques, Volenec said.
Jashawn and fellow fifth-grader Elijah Gorman said they use the mindful techniques they were taught to help them fall asleep at night.
“They got some new mindfulness techniques they can use in their everyday lives, not only at school but at home,” Volenec said. “They see mindfulness can be for everyone. He made it relevant. He made it fun. He made it cool.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected to reflect that JusTme worked with classes and small groups at Bird, and met with staff members to provide practices for themselves and students.