Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bringing Mindfulness into Afterschool

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We first met Ken Dyar through training his staff in Mindfulness in Afterschool. We were very impressed with his enthusiasm and wisdom. It made sense when we learned that he was named California Teacher of the Year in 2006. Below is an interview about his past history and perceived benefits of bringing mindfulness into afterschool.

Q: You were named a California Teacher of the Year in 2006. Can you tell us what teaching attributes or methods were cited that influenced this honor? 

Ken Dyar, Delano Union
School District

A: It was our commitment to improving children's health & fitness in our school and our community.  We were making Physical Education relevant and critical to our student's lives.  We also pushed the link to increased student academic achievement through student wellness.  Healthy children learn better.  I was relentless in my advocacy for quality, daily physical education.  I wanted my content area, which is so frequently marginalized by school districts who consider it "non-essential", to be considered "core content" in the same way that math and language arts are considered core.  My passion for my community and for physical education put us on the map, and it got the attention of the CA Department of Education.  Simply, I love my kids.  I grew up in Delano.  I used to be one of those students who walked through a classroom (or gym) door every day hoping that my teachers would take an interest in me and help guide me toward my best life.  I understand my community.  So I pushed hard to make my community and my students healthier.  We're not there yet, but we've come a long way.

Q: You are now overseeing Delano Union School District afterschool programs. What influenced your interest in afterschool programs?

A: I got involved completely by accident!  My superintendent asked me to work at a district level to improve PE for all of our campuses (instead of just the one in which I was teaching).  After I move over to the district office, he gave me the after school program as well and said, "I need you to fix this."  I had no idea what a quality after school program looked like or what I was getting myself into.  But again, I knew that Delano kids needed this program, and they needed it to be great.  So I started reading and learning about after school.  I also visited another program that was near Delano that had a state-wide reputation for excellence in after school.  What an eye-opener!  After that visit, I had a clear picture in my mind of what after school should be and what we needed to do to improve the quality of our program. 

Kids go to after school for 3 hours every day for 180 days a year.  If we do the math, that equals an extra 90 days, or an extra HALF YEAR, of school for our kids.  Who wouldn't benefit from that if we do it right?  So we committed to making Delano's after school program great.  One of the first things we did was re-brand the program as POWER (Powerful Outcomes in Wellness, Education, & Recreation), including a logo and t-shirts.  We needed to present a fresh image to our community and let them know this was a safe and effective place for parents to enroll their children.  We sold it well (seems like I'm always selling!).  POWER has since expanded from 4 sites to 10, and we are serving over 830 children.  Every year has been an improvement over the previous year.

Q: You recently introduced Mindfulness in Afterschool as a strategy to promote self-care for your afterschool staff and for your afterschool program participants. Why did you make this decision?

A: I saw a presentation at one of our regional after school meetings called "Fighting the Bear."  Children who are fighting the bear are in survival mode when they come to school.  Fighting the bear has to do with children at the base level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  They may not know where they are going to sleep on a given night.  They may not be eating regularly.  They may be dealing with family problems or substance abuse in the home.  They are in survival mode.  Unfortunately, this is an all-too common occurrence in my town.  When a child is just trying to survive, he or she is not capable of learning. 

I needed something to help get these kids "out of their head," feeling safe, feeling cared for, and more ready to learn.  Mindfulness was presented to us at this same regional meeting.  I did some research, learned a lot, and decided that this is exactly what my kids need in their lives.  Of course, the stress and demands placed on our after school staff also cried out for some type of tool that they could use to manage their emotions and their stressors effectively.  Mindfulness fit the bill for our staff as well.  Additionally, as Laurie Grossman (Temescal Associate) so aptly stated, "You can't teach someone to play the piano if you can't play the piano."  So in order for our staff to effectively bring Mindfulness to our kids, they had to learn about it and practice it themselves.  In the short time we've been practicing Mindfulness, I can tell you that I already know it's one of the best decisions we've made...professionally, programmatically, and personally.

Q: Have you seen a positive impact of introducing mindfulness training for your staff? Can you describe?

A: I have seen a positive impact.  Staff have already shared stories of how their Mindfulness training has helped them through stressful situations - upset parents, demanding bosses (not me of course!), difficulties with students.  They've also shared how Mindfulness has aided them in their personal lives.  I expect these types of stories to become even more evident as we continue this journey.

Q: Have you seen a positive impact of introducing mindfulness exercises for program participants? Can you describe?

A: Our student's LOVE Mindfulness!  They are responding in such a positive manner!  I've had a few students stop and talk to me when I visit sites and tell me how Mindfulness has helped them focus, or in their words, "it just calms me down."  Staff report seeing less student impulsiveness in class, and more openness to differences among their peers.  They are learning to be more patient and tolerant.  They are learning kindness.  And this all comes out of their Mindful practice.  I truly believe the potential for this program is limitless.  I think it will be a game-changer for Delano children.
Ken Dyar was named a California Teacher of the Year in 2006.  He is currently the Director of Physical Education & After School Programs, including DUSD's after school program - POWER.  He taught for 18 years prior to this assignment, teaching 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades (13 of those years as a physical educator and department chair at Cecil Avenue Middle School in Delano).

He graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1989 with a B.S. in Physical Education.  Ken has led more than 200 PE workshops throughout California, and has done presentations for delegations across the western United States and in Boston and Washington DC.

Mindfulness in Afterschool is a training and curriculum offered by Temescal Associates. For more information, write to 

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