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 Mayor Adams, Chancellor Banks, and Commissioner Vasan Bring Mindful Breathing Practices to all New York City Public Schools

Chancellor Banks: Good morning PS5. Give yourselves a big round of applause this morning. We’re happy this morning.

Audience: Yes.

Chancellor Banks: Why? It is the last day of school. That’s right. Oh my goodness. But you’re going to miss your teachers and you’re going to miss your classmates, but you are going to have a great summer. So we are really excited for all of you and we’re really excited to be here today to really announce our mindfulness and our breathing practice work that we will be doing as we go into the next school year.

I wanted to acknowledge Tracey Agerton, the assistant commissioner of the Office of School Health. Where are you, Tracey? Tracey, yep. Good to see you over there. This is an exciting initiative, but I’m really thrilled to introduce the person who is responsible for making sure that we deliver on this and to tell you the reasons why it is so critically, critically important. All the young men and young ladies, all the students that are here. Let’s all have a big round of applause. I like that for the mayor of the city of New York, Eric Adams.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you.

Chancellor Banks: They’re giving you double thumbs up over there.

Mayor Adams: Thank you so much, chancellor. And think about it for a moment, particularly to our educators who are here, and I just want to really thank your amazing principal. We’ve been in here many days. You are so forward-thinking on the projects that you’ve done here around food, just about everything we think about you implement and we owe so much a debt of gratitude. From my days of borough president, I’ve been in this school talking about some of the great things that you and your team that you are doing. And it’s always good to see my borough president, no matter where I go. You can take me out of Brooklyn, but Brooklyn you can never take out of me. Borough President Antonio Reynoso, first Dominican American to be borough president in the largest borough in the city.

But we are on an entirely new trajectory. And one thing that the chancellor shared with me throughout the years of speaking with him prior to becoming the mayor is that how we must develop the entire child. And we have not done that. And just really speaking to the educators and the children are going to continue to absorb this, but by the time our babies make their way and our scholars make their way into school, there are so many things going on around them that we are sitting down and say, “Why can’t little Barkem read and write?” Because we have not really addressed those impediments that they are experiencing every day, just like you are.

And our educators have gone through a traumatic experience during Covid. Not only did you have to deal with the disruption of educating our children, but let’s be honest, you have to deal with the disruption in your personal lives. You had children. You had to concern yourself with what’s going to happen when you come home. Are you going to infect them in some way with Covid? Are they getting their classroom assignments? And so that complexity needs to be addressed and it can’t be ignored. And we see what’s happening every day.

We prepare our children to be academically smart. We teach them algebra, trigonometry, and history, and English, and all of those things that they could be prepared to get a job. But we don’t teach them how to be emotionally intelligent, the things that’s needed to keep a job. Because you could know the academics of a job, but do you know the things to deal with stress, to deal with interacting with people? How are you knowledgeable of what you are feeling and how to respond with those feelings?

And what we are proposing to do in our full scope of developing the full personhood of our children, we are saying, “We want you to eat right so you don’t start out in life with some of the chronic diseases that are associated with bad eating habits. We want you to appreciate the diversity of your environment.” I look at the diversity of this school and see the different children. But also how do you do self-care? How do you care for yourself? How do you go through those moments? Because we all know that life is filled with ups and downs.

A little over a year and a half ago, I lost my mother and it was a painful moment for me. It was very, very painful. And I had to find some self-care while I was running to be mayor. While running to be mayor, I had to get up every day and think about mommy was no longer in my life, my constant companion. And I think about all of those moments of health crises that I had to experience, all of those ups and downs and leaving policing and after leaving policing, seeing the cruelties that people did to each other of it’s in you. And that’s what PTSD is about and your body doesn’t know the difference between actually going through a terrible moment and thinking about it. And we think about it often.

And so in our pathway of building these many rivers to optimum health and wellbeing, we are announcing one of the ways in which is part of our complete package of doing this. And darn, I wish I would’ve known this when I was in school, because I was a terror. I had to sit in the first seat in the first row right by the teacher. I was so disruptive. But if I knew what we are going to give these children, it is going to give them a tool that they can use for the rest of their lives.

And the simplicity of it is just breathing. It’s called breath work. We have never been taught how to breathe. We think that it’s just this air goes through your nostrils and you move. No, there’s a science to breathing. There’s a science to breathing before going to sleep. There’s breath work you should do when you wake up. There are breathing you should do before speaking to someone. There’s breathing exercises I do before I go and speak publicly. You are about to teach these children, these scholars, the basic principle of something that is one of the oldest things in humankind. They were doing proper breathing thousands of years ago. Other cultures were learning how to breathe, how to bring in breath work and how to exhale.

And I remember when I was debating to become mayor, we would walk in the studio and all of the candidates would be moving around  out of nervousness. And I would sit down in the studio before we went on to debate and do my breathing exercises. And one of the candidates looked over at me and said, “We never going to beat this guy.” That is what we are doing and giving to these children.

Young people, you’ll never be defeated. You have a tool right now that we are giving you that is going to empower you. And for the parents who are here and educators who are here, you are going to find those young people who are traditionally are the Erics of today that are disruptive in the classroom. You’re going to see a change in them over time. You’re going to see them being able to start the process of just doing the breathing exercises that we continue to talk about.

And so, I am really encouraged. I’m excited. And although we are building it in as a requirement, it is not forced on anyone. If you choose not to do the breathing exercise, that’s fine. That’s fine. Eventually over time you’ll find your way. But we want to make sure that we build it into our everyday process of education, because this chancellor is clear on the role of developing the full personhood of our children.
The skills they need as they move through life is something that can’t be ignored. And I just really have to take my hat off to what he’s doing because these are not popular things. I lose votes every time I take a hot dog out of school. I like to say, I’m the broccoli mayor. You’re not going to like it now, but you’re going to look back later and say, “Darn it, this guy got it.” And when we have principals who are willing to push this agenda forward and introduce these new practices and thoughts, it does an amazing job.

Breathing calms your nervous system. It helps to center us and help us regain our sense of balance and focus. It’s a valuable, low-cost tool that is proven to improve mental health and wellbeing. And so, we are proud today to announce New York City’s schools will soon be required to facilitate two to five minutes of mindful breathing practices in the classroom every day — two to five minutes. Think about that. We’re not talking about hours. Two to five minutes is a game changer in your physiology on how to move forward.
The Department of Education’s Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher Preparation Program will deliver on a promise we made at the state of the city, is also the nation’s first yoga alliance approved program to be run by a public school system. You have so many firsts, man. This is the first. And watch what happens. This is going to cascade throughout the entire country.

And so, I want to thank the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for their forward-thinking leadership. And I also want to do a special thanks to the UFT. And we were on the phone yesterday hearing all of these different programs, so we are just codifying what the UFT was already doing, already moving forward with. And this partnership is sending a clear message to the students and the teachers and the staff and the faculty that they are ahead of this very important mindful breathing.

It’s part of our goals to teach our young people healthy habits that will last for a lifetime. This also includes food education, exercise, promoting a plant-based diet. We believe these simple, small steps will be incorporated into the lives of our young people. And you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to watch their parents experience a level of stress and then they’re going to say, “Mommy, daddy, just breathe. Sit down, mommy. Take these breaths and just breathe.” Because the children will teach the adults and then they will incorporate it in their children. And you’re going to see a different shift in our society.

Instead of having bullets, we will have breath. Instead of having violence, we will have balance. We must deal with the stress that our scholars are dealing with every day. Ignoring it is not going to solve it, and we are willing to solve it.

I thank the team for being here and making this happen. Thank you very much.

Chancellor Banks: Thank you, mayor. And representing our teachers union here today, I want to acknowledge her again, the mayor just shouted. But Mary Vaccaro, thank you so much for being here. And Michael, thank you so much for his partnership with us on this. It means the world to us.

We’re also joined today by the superintendent of this district, and he oversees all the schools in this district, and we are just thrilled with his leadership, Superintendent Brendan Mims. All right. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for being here. And from our office, the person who’s really the driving force and helping to make sure that we get all the folks trained around this city and in our schools so that we can do this work with Fidelity, Stacey, Stacey Haley, please stand up. Stacey, thank you. Thank you.

I just want to just add on one more point that the mayor just said, which is the pandemic was not the first trauma that our kids have faced. And news flash, it will not be the last. Every day presents challenges. We are really excited about this because we don’t want this to be something that’s just for a few kids or a few schools.

The mayor made it very clear: Every student across the entire city, every school should have access to learning how to breathe. It’s a technique. It’s not just your natural, normal breathing that keeps you alive, but it’s an intentional focus on breathing that allows you to center yourself.

I get asked lots of questions about “What are you doing? Kids have gone through a lot. What are your mental health programs?” All of those kinds of things. There’s nothing more important that we could teach our kids than mindfulness, deliberative breathing, walking away with a lifelong skill that they can take with them everywhere that they go — simply to know how to be still, how to center yourself, how to take in the oxygen into your body, and how to release it in a way that reduces stress.

So, I am super excited about it. I’m super excited for all the kids. I was at a CEC meeting last night in the Bronx, and the parents said at that meeting, overwhelmingly, “Please make sure the parents also get trained in how to do this. Don’t leave us on the side.” And so, not only are their kids going to show them, but we are also going to take more affirmative actions to ensure that our parents also get it.

And in many of the schools, we have hundreds of our schools that are already doing this. But we want to ensure that everybody gets this exposure and this access. And as the mayor said, also, all of our educators and everyone who works in our buildings, they need that balance as well if we want them to show up healthy and whole to support our kids.

So, with that, we’re going to take some questions I think at this point before we actually do our breathing exercise with some young people that are going to lead us.

Question: Chancellor or mayor or whoever could answer this best, can you tell us a little bit about how it’ll work day-to-day? Is the teacher going to be the person facilitating the mindfulness? Are they going to get some training? I know there’s a lot of training going on with the literacy curriculum.

Chancellor Banks: Sure. Sure. So there’ll be at least one person in each one of the schools. And in many cases, there are multiple people in the schools who are actually being trained. It will look different from school to school. Some schools are much larger schools. Some schools, they have less students, they’re small schools. Some schools will do it in their advisory periods. Many of them will be doing it in their physical education classes. Some will do it at their town halls in the morning before the kids go to class.

We are not mandating when. We are making some suggestions, but we’re leaving it up to the leadership at the school to determine the best place to make it fit. We don’t want it to get in the way. We don’t want this to be, oh, yet another mandate. That’s why the mayor said it’s two to five minutes that if we can do this well, we actually believe more schools are going to want to go to another level with it because there are many levels that you can go to in learning this as a real practice and a real art form, but we just really want to lay the foundation. Mary, you want to say something to it as well?

Mary Vaccaro, Vice President, Education, United Federation of Teachers: We believe, at the UFT, this will be part of the literacy curriculum so that as we transition from a read aloud to a mini lesson, that we will be able to do the breathing incorporated in that so that we could really focus on the initiative of New York City reads. Included in that, we think about 2,500 teachers have been trained so far just from the UFT’s end of it. Michael Mulgrew and Melinda Person from NYSUT have bought the Calm app so every single UFT member in the city will have that to start practicing over the summer before they’re even officially trained. And we’re also partnering with a naturopathic doctor and MindUP to try to assist in learning how to actually breathe correctly. One thing that we have found with the teachers is that people are breathing, but they’re not breathing. And so we’ve been showing, do you feel it here in your diaphragm? No, you don’t feel it, you’re not really breathing. And that’s why you’re so anxious. So we’re trying to bring everybody down. As the mayor said before, we really go into full force in the classrooms.

Mayor Adams: And with the highest level of creativity, you’re going to have a challenging time imagining Michael Mulgrew on a yoga mat.

Question:  For the chancellor. So what is the next step after this? What are you envisioning? Would there be a yoga class or something to that effect?

Chancellor Banks: You know what? Julia, I would say it’s a great question. First of all, many of our schools are already doing this. And as I have traveled around this city, I was surprised to see so many schools that have already engaged. Our teachers inherently have already recognized, particularly coming off the pandemic, that this was something really essential. So I have been to many schools which are already doing even the yoga work and have the kids doing the yoga already in their schools. We are going to leave it up to those schools and our educators and our teachers and our principals themselves to figure out the best way forward. We intend to be an ecosystem of support for them. So depending upon how far they want to go and how much they want to do, we want to be able to provide them with those additional supports. But it’s been wonderful to see how many schools have already been doing this, and they’re not taking it as a negative, like it’s a mandate. But this is something that really speaks to the health of everybody in the school.

Question: Kids’ responding, are they?

Chancellor Banks: Oh, you’re going to see in just a moment. We’re going to have some of the kids who are getting ready to lead us.

Mayor Adams: In fact, principal, why don’t you come and share some of the things that you are doing here.

Lena Gates, Principal, PS5, Department of Education:  To our Mayor Adams, to our chancellor, our borough president, Antonio Reynoso, to Linda, UFT, to our superintendent, deputy superintendent, and our executive superintendents, to all those gathered here today, all the visitors, good morning.

Audience: Good morning.

Gates: To our teachers and our children, this is the reason why we’re here. Good morning to you also. At PS5, we recognized that this mindfulness program that has been introduced a couple of years ago has been important to our students and our families. When our students come in the morning, sometimes we started to take care of their physical needs, making sure they have breakfast in the morning, before they go to class, and we thought that was good enough. But then when students come in and they tell a story, something happened at home last night, something happened with my brother, something happened with my sister, my mom didn’t come home last night, and then we want the children to sit down in the classroom and then we give them a book and we say, “Okay, let’s get started with our ELA this morning.” But we have a guidance counselor. We have a physical education program here at Public School 5 that acknowledges when our students come in and they want to talk. So one of the things that we did introduce was the yoga.

We introduced the mindfulness, and you’ll see some of our students that have been working, and we’ve learned how to do the breathing exercises here. And as principal, that’s one of the things that a principal has to learn how to do, and a principal has to learn how to breathe or we would be somewhere not being able to come back to reality. We feel that the mindfulness program in our building has been effective. Our students are able to go into the guidance counselor’s office or go into our physical education room, our gym, and they’re able to just pull the mats out and they’re able to lay out on the rugs, they’re able to just put their heads back and they’re able to just think about and just take that time to reflect. And then our students are ready to go on with the day.

Throughout our school, we’ve also incorporated a wonderful garden out in the side of the school over there that you should all visit, because it’s a place that if you go out there and just sit and then you start to breathe out there, the whole world disappears. And it’s reality, the whole world disappears. And then also for our staff and our teachers, we make sure that we incorporate them in this work as well. So we’ve created a fitness room and we’ve created all of the same types of exercises and supports to them as well.

Mayor Adams: Good stuff. Good stuff. This is the school experience of the future. And I just really want us to think about what was just stated. Imagine a child starting their school day. I’ll never forget the story that Traci told me when she was a principal. And a young man came in late, exacerbated or stressed out and sweating. And she said, “You’re late. What happened?” He says, “I’m sorry, Ms. Collins, but my dad tried to throw my mother out the window again.” And how do you sit in the classroom and learn? What happened to the children who lost a friend to gun violence? Do we just act like that didn’t happen? Every child in this city is not waking up to mom and dad with breakfast sitting on the table. And as they go to school, the school crossing guard say, “Have a nice day, Johnny.” They walk into the store, they put the money in their hand and not on the counter. They acknowledge their existence. That’s not the experience of every child.

So when they come inside a classroom, we need to first find out, are you ready and receptive to learn based on all that you dealt with. That’s what this is about. And the science is so clear. Some people would dismiss it and try to say, “Oh, what is this feely, feely good stuff?” No, go look at the science. The science is clear. Breath work helps the entire physiology. It helps you manage your stress. It helps your internal crises that you experience. It helps you deal with others. I’m on Zoom sometimes with my team and I’m picking up their breathing patterns have changed. And I would tell us all, let’s stop for a moment and let’s do a little breathing so we can get back realigned. This is a huge, huge, huge shift in how we are going to start having schools look; gardens, rest places for children, mats for us to take a break. We have to start shifting to take care of the human being, because if you are broken, how are you going to help broken people in the process? That’s what this is about. And then your phone never stops.

Chancellor Banks: Especially when you’re the mayor.

Question: Good morning, mayor. I just have a question for the chancellor. I know that breath work is important for the overall mental health checklist. An audit from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli last year found that the majority of the 1600 public schools in the city have a shortage of social workers and guidance counselors, which I know can also be a crucial part to the students’ mental health. Is there a plan to bring on more guidance counselors and social workers, especially after the pandemic? A lot of students need more than breath work as part of their curriculum of mental health.

Mayor Adams: Yeah, and if chancellor can speak on his plan, first of all, for mental health, there’s never enough. There’s never enough. And so as we do all those different items, let’s go after the low-hanging fruits also. The goal is to keep building more and more of what’s needed to develop the academic success with the emotional success. And so even when we move to make sure we have social workers in every school, we’re still going to be finding new ways. Dr. Vasan just rolled out the app that we’re going to have, so our young people are going to be able to go right online.

How many of you young people have this phone, a cell phone? How many of you have a cell phone? Okay? They don’t do like we want to do, walk inside the psychologist’s office and sit on the couch and start telling about stuff. They want to go on their devices, so we are adjusting and shifting based on where people are, not where we are. And so yes, we want to deal with all of those issues, but there’s some very simple, easy implemented things that we can do. Chancellor, you want to talk?

Chancellor Banks: Yeah. City Council fought real hard a couple years ago to ensure that there was funding for every school. Every school actually now has the funding discretion to hire a social worker if they would like to. Some schools have chosen to do other things with their funds, but I think the Mayor is absolutely correct. There’s no one silver bullet. There’s no one answer. Even if you have a social worker in the school and you’ve got a thousand kids in the school, we will say, “Well, we need many more.”

We’re looking at a host of different things. That’s why I think this announcement is so important, because this speaks to, how do we help teach kids the skills to heal themselves? And we’re also excited about the app that is coming, that is going to also allow our kids, particularly our high school kids, to actually be in touch with mental health counselors in real time from their phones. So, there are a number of things. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue to work to find new and innovative ways to meet their needs.

Chancellor Banks: All right. We are now going to be led through a breathing exercise, so please welcome Noah, Cash, and Sean who are going to lead us.

Mayor Adams: And we want the reporters to follow us. All right? We want you guys to find your happy place.


Mayor Adams: Thank you. Thank you, guys. Look at that confidence. Breathing is standing up, is sitting down, is laying down. It is before walking into a stressful situation. It is before getting into a heated conversation. And I just really would encourage all as part of this process is, that’s simple, six breaths. I’m a Wim Hof person. I use his method of breathing and transcendental meditation, that form of meditation. But these young people, imagine as they get older, they empower themselves. So thank you, principal, for what you’re doing. Thanks, all.

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