The nature of the mind is like a jar of glitter, Fayette County Youth Coordinator Michele Kelly said.Shaking the jar, Kelly illustrates a stressed mind.“If we’re stressed — those glitter flakes (represent) our mind, they’re going all directions. When we calm ourselves down — when the glitter calms down — when we’re relaxed, not stressed, then this is what our brain looks like.”A student, who had sought and received permission to skip the Mindful Teen class Kelly is offering at West Central, thus missed a few days’ activities, including making the glitter jar. Classmates made one for him, but he wanted to make his own.“I saw him one day in the hall and he says, ‘Can I come in and make my glitter jar?’“I said, ‘You can,’” Kelly said, noting she had just told his teacher that.“My first session, a lot of kids were reluctant to be there,” Kelly said.“A week after we finished our first session, I got an email from a teacher at West Central that said, ‘I know there were days you walked away this last month very discouraged. But I have talked to those kiddos one on one, and every one of them has shared something that they got out of this class.’”The program, titled “Mindful Teen: From Surviving to Thriving,” is a six-hour workshop series — which worked for West Central as a dozen half-hour sessions — through Iowa State University Extension. It is designed to equip youth in the secondary grades with practical strategies and awareness practices to manage stress and difficult emotions, and also help support their overall well-being, relationships and performance in school, extracurriculars and other activities.The course, per Extension, is based on the book, “The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time” by Dr. Dzung Vo. “The Mindful Teen” program is based on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), according to Amazon.“We are working really hard to equip our kids with practical ways to deal with stress, difficult emotions, how to just make someone’s day better,” Michele Kelly said.She teaches how small kindnesses like a wave or a hello can make a big difference to someone else, whether it is someone they pass in the hallway or on the sidewalk. It can even brighten their own day.“Just that little wave makes that person think ‘oh man, somebody cares,’” Michele said.Another time, she learned some junior high basketball players were pessimistic about an upcoming game.“We’re going to lose anyway,” they told her.Michele asked them to think of how they can turn that anxiety into a positive.She found out when the game was.“I came back and went to the game. Two of those girls who were really down, they saw me walking and they turned around. I gave them a big smile and they gave me an air five,” Michele said.“I know some of these kiddos have way too much stress on their minds, and we just need to get them focusing on the positive,” she said.The course discusses the basics, too.“I tell them mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way in the present moment, nonjudgmentally,” Michele said, paraphrasing Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.Synonyms for it include presence, awareness, awakening, clarity, compassion, open-heartedness and showing loving presence.Michele also discusses what mindfulness is not. It’s not a disciplinary tactic. It’s not a cure for everything that’s distressing. It’s not providing you happiness. It’s not the absence of thought. It’s not religion.It’s not only meditation, although they do talk about breathing exercises, and after a majority vote of students, she taught a group three basic yoga poses.“Every person needs to find which type of mindful practice works the best for them,” Michele said.Another activity students do is observing a raisin through five — or four senses. They look at it, they smush it and listen to it crinkle. They sniff it. They can taste it if they want to.“I don’t make them taste them,” Michele said, noting she doesn’t want to make anyone sick.“I also talk about, when we’re eating, we need to be mindful and enjoy what we’re eating, don’t just scarf it down,” Michele said, acknowledging that at school, “They’re on a schedule. But take the time at breakfast or supper. Plus it probably would make our parents happier if we sat there for a little bit longer and enjoyed our time together.“We have talked about the technology, about putting down our phones. I let them know I’m not perfect all the time either. We’re human. We need to admit to our wrongdoings,” Michele said.She discusses using breathing to defuse one’s own temper when a classmate is annoying them.“Take deep breaths. Tell them ‘I’d rather walk away,’ or say ‘I need to walk away from you.’“If you go and hit someone, then you’re in trouble with admin, so it’s better to do your breathing and walk away,” Michele said.She’s gotten some to acknowledge her in the hallway.“Some of them will still bury their head. But I’ll say hi to them anyway. Well, then their head picks up,” Michele said.The program might sound like one that was offered at Oelwein Middle School a few years ago, and it is. Michele and former youth program specialist Kendra Crooks piloted this program with former Oelwein teacher Karla Duff, with sixth graders pre-pandemic.“West Central is my first group that I have done since that pilot,” Michele said. She is offering the class to all sixth- through eighth-graders throughout the next month or so. Students also receive a magnet that lists crisis hotlines for many circumstances, like preventing suicide, stopping an eating disorder, the Iowa Concern hotline and the Trevor Project.As for Oelwein Middle School, they have moved toward using a social emotional learning curriculum, according to teacher Justin Post.For persons interested, there will be a training in the Mindful Teen: From Surviving to Thriving program through Fayette County Extension on May 11, offered as a 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Zoom. For details and to register, visit https://go.iastate.edu/LNNSBA or contact Michele Kelly at Fayette County Extension, 563-425-3331, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.