Although the start of a new school year is typically a stressful time for students and staff alike, Las Cruces Public Schools, working in partnership with the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority (NMPSIA), recently kicked off a districtwide, mindfulness-based stress reduction program that aims to change that.

Mindfulness training

Michelle DuVal, co-founder of the Mindful Center in Albuquerque, leads a kick-off session for the eight-week stress reduction program.

“Even though it has a major impact on our entire lives, most people don’t dedicate much time to caring for the state of their mind,” said Michelle DuVal, co-founder of the Mindful Center in Albuquerque. “Mindfulness teaches lifelong training that helps people be more present in their daily lives and activities.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, mindfulness is defined as the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. In practice, mindfulness-based stress reduction features evidence-based practices, such as meditation and breathing techniques, which have been shown to decrease stress levels in a variety of clinical studies, according to a 2012 study by the American Psychological Association.

The eight-week, online program, led by DuVal, is being provided by NMPSIA, free of charge, to all LCPS employees. As part of the program launch, LCPS employees participated in a series of in-person kick-off sessions led by DuVal Wednesday, Jan. 3 at the Oñate High School Performing Arts Center.

Throughout the sessions, employees learned the basics of the eight-week program, which each employee can then continue online after registering with a personalized registration code.

LCPS was the only school district in New Mexico invited to pilot the program, partly because of the district’s past success implementing wellness initiatives.

“The support from the leadership at LCPS played a major role in selecting the district to pilot this program,” said Katherine Chavez, benefits and wellness operations manager for NMPSIA. “We continually work with our insurance partners to offer wellness programs that lead to happy, healthy employees. Ultimately, mindfulness is something that can benefit employees on and off the clock, and something they can incorporate into classroom.”

Chavez also mentioned that LCPS was a good candidate for the program based on an identified need within the district.

“More than two years ago we conducted a staff wellness survey. In that survey, nearly 80 percent of the 994 employees surveyed showed interest in strategies for coping with stress,” said LCPS Health and Nutrition Specialist Barbara Berger.

The district’s ongoing staff wellness program began about three years ago after the district was awarded a school health grant, which included staff wellness, from the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation. Currently, LCPS has 30 volunteer staff wellness ambassadors who lead a variety of health and wellness initiatives such as staff fitness classes and districtwide wellness competitions.

Through her work at The Mindful Center, DuVal has implemented similar programs at Albuquerque Public Schools, Presbyterian Hospitals, the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories, and the New Mexico Heart Institute.

For more information about staff wellness initiatives, contact Berger at bberger@lcps.net.