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A Plea For Stress Management Course At Pittsfield Schools

JD Allen
Susan Lord is the executive director of the Center for Peace through Culture.

A nonprofit wants to add relaxation techniques to the curriculum at Pittsfield Public Schools. 

The Center for Peace through Culture started a pilot program at Conte Community School last year to address the tensions that build up in school life. It teaches self-awareness, communication skills, relaxation techniques, nutrition and more.

Conte Principal Kerry Light says 10 teachers volunteered for the program. 

“This program invests in the people who most impact our students, our teachers and our staff,” Light says. “I want to offer all of you a taste of what we have learned so far this year. If you feel comfortable, please allow your eyes to close. Use this time to notice your breath, focusing your full attention on your breath.”

Bringing any new program into Pittsfield Public Schools could be challenging – even if it promotes calming and relaxation techniques.

The Pittsfield Public School Committee adopted a roughly $60.6 million budget last week under the city’s level funding.

It’s $250,000 less than what was discussed at an earlier budget hearing.

The budget cuts 75.6 full-time positions — including teachers, paraprofessionals and districtwide positions.

The further $250,000 cut brings the city under its budget ceiling by just $31,000.

The relaxation program costs about $50,000, but the pilot was free.

“If we can find time for personal development of staff then imagine the positive impact that this would have on our greater school community,” Light says. “It is the trickle-down effect that hopefully will result in living life with more joy, appreciation, creativity and meaning with enhanced communication and stronger relationships.”

The Center’s Executive Director Susan Lord says last summer, the teaching staff attended a four-day professional development retreat, learning techniques designed for the school environment. They continued to go to a two-hour learning program after class every other week. 

Lord says it is important to help the teachers in Pittsfield deal with their growing challenges.

“There is so much tension and stress in our community now that as we face the challenges of budget cuts and positions being eliminated,” Lord says.
“And this is the time in a way to step back from fighting fires to building resilience in the community. It is very easy to put our own needs aside and to be consumed by the stress trying to deal with all of the fires that are starting all around us and what happens is we get burned out and then we become ineffective in everything we do.”

Lord says too often children aren’t taught how to calm down. And, she says, that’s because their teachers don’t know how to either. 

“To do that, we need to put on our own oxygen masks – take care of ourselves – so that we can model the kind of citizens, the kind of people we hope they can become,” Lord says.

Lord says the cost could be reduced with fundraising, and could be less expensive to roll out next year if the pilot is successful.

Despite budget cuts, the School Committee did approve several new women’s studies and civil rights-type courses for students. The Committee says the relaxation program could be an important addition down the road.  

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