Barry Johnson’s second-period science class has fallen silent. The lights are dimmed and the students are all sitting forward and upright in their chairs with their feet on the floor and eyes closed.

The only sound that can be heard is the soothing voice of a woman who is inviting the class to take a few moments —eight minutes, to be exact—to “just be right here” as the students “breathe in and breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.”

In today’s hyper-connected, always-on world, eight minutes is a long time for anyone to sit still with their thoughts, let alone an entire classroom of energetic preteens (try it sometime). But these digital natives have been practicing, taking up to 10 minutes every other day to disconnect and clear their heads as part of a mindfulness program being implemented at Albion Middle and a handful of other Canyons District schools.

Albion has only been doing morning mindfulness practices for about a month, but early results are promising. Already, teachers are observing fewer behavioral problems and signs of anxiety and stress in their students, which they say, helps learning happen more efficiently. “Teachers also are feeling the benefits as many practice mindfulness with their students,” says Albion counselor Cathy Nelson.mindfulness

What is mindfulness? There is no single definition, which is why it has been difficult for scientists to put reported benefits to the rigorous test of randomized clinical trials. But in the trials that have been done, mindfulness-type attention training has been shown to change the brain activity of depressed patients and reduce perceived feelings of stress. And there are plenty of observational studies suggesting mindfulness also helps with impulse control, empathy, attention and focus, resilience, productivity, and stress and pain management.

With rates of teen anxiety and depression on the rise, schools are looking for ways to support the social-emotional needs of students, and mindfulness is something that’s being explored by classrooms across the country, says Canyons District counseling coordinator Tori Gillett. “Students can’t learn when they’re overwhelmed and this gives them coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional stressors. It primes their brains for learning and trying hard things.” 

As it’s typically practiced, mindfulness is about being present in each moment, and creating a relaxed and aware state of mind while noticing thoughts and feelings without judgement.

Canyons District’s schools use a grant-funded program called Inner Explorer, a series of pre-recorded, age-appropriate guided meditation practices that teachers play in their classrooms following the school’s morning announcements. Some students more actively participate than others, but all are asked to be quiet and respectful.

Each day’s recording starts with taking stock of your breathing and noticing how your body feels. Often, there are even a few academic lessons thrown into the mix.

“Consider the importance of breathing,” the disembodied voice encourages Johnson’s class. “As you breathe in and out, consider how we can live more than 50 days without food, and about seven days without water. But we can only live about five minutes without breathing in and breathing out.”

The recording goes on to discuss belly breathing and the vagus nerve, which runs from our brain stem to our stomach and controls the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. “As you breathe in through your nose, breathe slowly to the count of five, and as you breathe out, breathe slowly to the count of 10 through a small opening in your mouth. Your exhale will be longer than your inhale, and this is what stimulates the vagus nerve and the relaxation response,” the voice prompts.

One or two of the students fidget and seem bored. But most sit quietly the entire eight minutes and report feeling “calm” and “relaxed” afterward. They describe the experience as rewarding and say they like starting the day this way.

Johnson has even used some of the strategies he’s learned at home with his own children. “It has really helped reduce anxiety and build focus,” he says, “and like anything else we do in school, the students get better at it with practice.” 

Tips for Surviving the Holiday Blues

Tidings of comfort and joy? Not for all of us. The holiday blues are a real phenomenon, though they don’t manifest as you might think. It’s a common myth, for example, that suicide rates spike during the holidays when, in fact, the wintersafeUTsmall months usually have the fewest daily suicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.  Nevertheless, changes in the weather, family schedules, obligations and expectations can make November, December and January a tough time for some of us, inspiring stress and feelings of loneliness, instead of warmth and cheer. The good news is that the holiday blues don’t generally last long, and there’s help for those whose sadness lingers. Just as Canyons District is concerned with the physical safety and health of students, our schools also work to fortify the social-emotional needs of children. Psychologists, social workers and counselors are assigned to every school to support students and families throughout the school year. Canyons District’s Department of Responsive Services also maintains an online library of tips and tools for parents and educators about a range of topics from suicide and drug and alcohol prevention to tips on talking to kids about traumatic events (see links below). Finally, if you know of someone who is in crisis and needs immediate help, you can report it through the anonymous and confidential mobile tipline SafeUT. The app, which provides all-day and all-night access to school administrators and licensed clinicians at the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, is available to all Canyons school communities. Users can submit a tip with a picture and/or video and communicate online or call by phone. For the community's ease, here are links to places students and parents can download the app: Click here for Google Play and click here to find the app in iTunes. 

Bullying Prevention Tips
Suicide Prevention
Drug and Alcohol Prevention Resources
Preventing Gang Involvement
Crisis Prevention and Intervention
Planning a family trip for the holidays? Hoping to squeeze in a few extra days of vacation the week before or after Winter Recess?

‘Tis the season for reconnecting with faraway friends and family, and the timing of your travel plans can influence the cost of plane tickets and hotel stays. But keep in mind the costs to your children’s education when they miss too much school.

Canyons District’s schools will be open, our teachers will be teaching, and our students will be learning right up until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the start of the winter break on Thursday Dec. 20—and we’ll waste no time starting up again after the New Year.

“When it comes to keeping kids on track academically, every day of instruction counts,” says Canyons District Responsive Services Administrator Colleen Smith who is working with schools to spread awareness of the hazards of absenteeism. “We don’t begrudge students the learning opportunity of traveling to new places. But absences tend to soar around the holidays, and families often don’t realize how quickly they can add up.”

Missing just a few days here and there can contribute to elementary students falling behind in reading, writing and math, a growing body of research shows. For example, four out of five students who miss two days per month, or 10 percent, of kindergarten and first grade are unable to read on-level by the third grade. By the sixth-grade, excessive absenteeism is a warning sign of a student not graduating from high school.

Put simply, too many absences—even excused absences—at any age can harm a student’s chances for academic success, Smith says. This year, Canyons District is encouraging students to “Be Great, Miss Less than Eight,” and schools will be finding creative ways to encourage good attendance habits, and reward students for coming to school every day, on time and ready to learn. 

Think your child’s school has avoided the naughty list? Think again. Last year, 7,111 students districtwide—21 percent—were chronically absent, or missed at least 10 percent of the school year. Zero in on individual schools, and you’ll find instances where as many as 32 percent of the students were chronically absent, says Instructional Specialist Jonathan Stewart, noting there are hotspots of absenteeism in every corner of the District.

Hitting the 10 percent mark is easier to do than it sounds, says Stewart. “That’s the equivalent of skipping just one day every other week.”

A bout with the flu, a midday doctor’s appointment, and extended family vacation can easily put a student over the threshold for the term, Stewart says. “We have had terms (quarters or semesters) where nearly half an entire school was chronically absent.”

And while such spikes may be an anomaly, large numbers of students missing class can affect the pace of instruction for the entire classroom, Stewart says. “It can really slow things down, creating extra work for the teacher and a missed opportunity to advance for the other students.”

What can parents do? Smith says it’s important to set firm expectations early in the school year, and early in a child’s educational career, and to be consistent in enforcing them.

“Sometimes life gets in the way. There will always be unforeseen illnesses and family emergencies—even rare special occasions—that pull kids from school,” Smith says. “But children, even teenagers, take cues from their parents, and it’s important to let them know that in school, work and life, showing up is important. It really comes down to establishing a daily routine, and reinforcing for your children how much you value an education.”

Attendance Tips for Parents
  • Let your children know that you think showing up for school every day is important.
  • Take an interest in your child’s school work and be involved in school activities.
  • Post the school calendar somewhere prominently in the home.
  • Establish a routine and healthy school-night habits, such as getting to bed early and reading before bed, instead of watching TV.
  • Set the morning alarm early enough to provide students ample time to get dressed and eat breakfast.
  • Support your children in getting to school on time: Give them a ride if they’re running late or they miss the bus, or arrange to carpool with other families.
  • Try to schedule doctor and dental appointments after school.
Denmark isn’t a socialist utopia where everything is free, as Bernie Sanders is wont to describe it. Nor is it an example of the pitfalls of socialism as portrayed in a recent White House report that compared Denmark’s standard of living to that of Venezuela.

In fact, the Nordic country isn’t socialist at all, Denmark’s Ambassador to the United States Lars Gert Lose explained to a group of Brighton High students on Friday. “We are a social-democratic country.”

It’s a nuance that may be tough to describe on a bumper sticker, or in 140 characters or less, but it wasn’t lost on the Model UN and Advanced Placement students who gathered in Brighton’s auditorium to hear Lose speak. The Ambassador’s appearance was arranged by social studies teacher Jim Hodges through Brigham Young University’s Kennedy Center.  The Kennedy Center sponsors several ambassadorial visits each year, and arranges to have the dignitaries meet with as many student groups as possible. danishsmall

At Brighton, Lose spoke of life as a diplomat and of Denmark’s long and valued ties to the United States. The two countries may not agree on everything, he said, but “there’s much more that binds us together than separates us.”

Denmark’s diplomatic relationship with America dates back to 1801 due, in part, to historically large Danish migration to this country. Economically, the two countries are important to one another. “The U.S. is the third largest market for Danish companies, bigger than France or the UK,” Lose said. And the two regions share common foreign security philosophies with their investments in military defense.

Culturally and politically the two countries may sometimes seem worlds apart, but the distinctions aren’t as black-and-white as is commonly thought. Among the surprising facts that Lose shared:
  • Denmark is part of the European Union but has its own currency.
  • The country has a democratic political system and free and open-market economy, but also could be described as a welfare state due to its government-funded health care, higher education, and robust social supports.
  • The vast majority of Danes are affiliated with trade unions because the government doesn’t regulate employment standards, such as setting a minimum wage. Liberal employment regulations also make it easier to hire and fire workers who can always fall back on the country’s safety net, creating more job mobility. But unemployment is low, and currently at about 3.6 percent, and productivity high. 
  • Lose described his homeland as a “very pragmatic and compromising country” with nine political parties in Parliament that have had to learn to work together in order to get work done.
Of course, the Danes devote nearly have their wages to income tax. Social supports “come at a price,” Lose said, “but it’s true that we have a great quality of life.”

Denmark’s foreign policy priorities include the fight against terror and climate change. The country began innovating in the area of renewable energy in the 1970s in response to an oil crisis. Renewable energy sources now meet half of the country’s energy needs, Lose said.

The country also would like to see free-trade alliances and agreements preserved. There’s nothing wrong with Trump Administration’s America-first stance, Lose said. “We have a Denmark-first policy as well.” Lose also agreed that the World Trade Organization has allowed China to compete unfairly.

But Lose questioned the logic of “blowing up” fair-trade rules and structures in an effort to improve them. “That won’t play well in the long-term. Look at Utah. I think 25 percent of all jobs here are dependent on global trade,” he said. “The point is how you pursue America’s interests. Playing a zero-sum game and having to win every single time, makes it difficult to find compromise.”

A cup of feedback, a dash of input, and a heaping slice of honesty. That’s what we’re asking for in a survey that is being sent to Canyons District parents about their experiences with their child’s school.

All nine questions on the short survey are vital ingredients in our efforts to make healthy school-to-home connections, sweeten our customer service, and improve our recipe for student success. 

A link to the online survey will be sent Saturday, Nov. 10 to parents and guardians of children in Canyons District schools. It will arrive via email to the contact information provided during the online registration process for the 2018-2019 school year. 

Parent and guardians are asked to check their email accounts for the link.

The District will take input through the online survey until Nov. 30.  Parents who did not receive an email link can call Canyons District’s Help Desk at 801-826-5544 for assistance. 

Parents will be asked to complete a survey for every school where their children are currently enrolled. Questions cover school climate, academic support of children, and whether the school communicates appropriately with the community. 

Parents also can provide comments after responding to every question. The answers are anonymous unless parents identify themselves for a follow-up by school administrators. 

By state law, Canyons District is required to survey parents as part of educators’ evaluations. District and school administrators use the data to address needs, hone processes and recognize improvements.
With the arrival of the season's first major snow, and more in the forecast for the Salt Lake valley, there will be days in the coming weeks when traveling to and from school is challenging for families.

So, please, give yourself extra time to walk and drive to school or arrive at the bus stop safely—and be careful out there. On wet, wintry days, our schools are lenient with tardies, because we want everyone arriving to school safe, sound and ready to learn. Keep in mind that, while some of us would prefer to be hitting the slopes or staying tucked in bed with a good book, "snow days," or school cancellations are rare in Utah. More often, the District will choose to delay the start of school in order to provide our partner cities with more time to clear sidewalks and streets.

Such decisions are made by Canyons administrators in cooperation with the Transportation Department, which has drivers out surveying the condition of roads as early as 4 a.m. To alert parents about school closures and delays, the District will employ its website, the Skylert emergency-communication system, and Facebook and Twitter (@canyonsdistrict and @CanyonsT). Parents and employees should also listen to Wasatch Front radio and television stations for more information.

Bottom line: No public announcement means schools will be open and operating as usual. Unless extreme weather creates unsound traveling conditions, schools operating under the Canyons District umbrella will remain open on scheduled school days.

Why keep schools open during snowstorms?
About 34,000 students count on us to deliver a quality education in a safe, welcoming environment. Unscheduled school closures disrupt learning and place a burden on parents who work full time and can’t easily be home to supervise their children. Neighborhood schools also are a primary source of breakfast and lunch for many of our students. 

What if I’d prefer to keep my child home? 
While school-closure decisions will be made in the best interest of a school community, the District respects the rights of parents and guardians to decide what’s best for children in their care. 

Bus stops: Parents are asked to meet their children at bus stops when buses are running on delayed or emergency schedules. To stay abreast of bus delays and other transportation-related announcements, follow the CSD Transportation Department's Twitter account @CanyonsT.

How will I know if school is canceled or delayed?
Canyons District has established the following communications policies in the event of a school closure. The District will employ its website, the Skylert emergency-communication system, and Facebook and Twitter (@canyonsdistrict) to alert parents about school closures. Parents and employees should listen to Wasatch Front radio and television stations for school-closure information.

What we will tell you: The District will communicate one of three messages: 1) Day and date a school is closed; 2) Day and date a school is starting late; 3) and day and date schools will be dismissed.

Telephones: Families are encouraged to call the District Office at 801-826-5000  for the latest decisions on school closures due to inclement weather. Please be patient, as the District Office may experience a high volume of phone calls on these days. Parents also may call their child's school.  

How we decide: School closures will be announced when authorized by the Canyons Superintendent of Schools or his designee after consulting with senior staff members. The National Weather Service and other state, county and city agencies also may be consulted.

Closures are for one day only: All announcements are for one day only. No announcement means schools will be open and operate as usual.

Emergency plans: Families are encouraged to establish an emergency plan for their children in the event that schools are closed, have a delayed start or dismissed early. Parents are urged to instruct their children where to go or what to do if a parent is not at home.

What if I’d prefer to keep my child home? 
While school-closure decisions will be made in the best interest of a school community, the District respects the rights of parents and guardians to decide what’s best for children in their care. Please remember, however, that school absences can quickly add up and cause students to fall behind.

Make-up days: Days lost because of inclement weather are made up on Washington and Lincoln Day Recess days and/or Spring Recess.
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