Inner Strength Expands to Reach Younger Students and Finds a Welcome Reception!

By Haylee Warner

This past semester, Haylee Warner finished teaching a pilot program with three 7th grade classes and one 8th grade class at the Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP). Haylee shared her experience and key instructional points, tips, and curriculum content.

The curriculum is modeled on Inner Strength’s core Teen Program, and has been augmented by Haylee, Julie Coopersmith, and Katy Kopnitsky, incorporating teaching tools from Haylee’s dance and movement training, Haylee and Katy’s work with Transformation Yoga Project,  Christopher Willard’s Growing up Mindful, Mind & Life Institute’s A Call to Care, Goldie Hawn’s MindUP SEL work, and Emory University’s SEE Learning (Social, Emotional & Ethical learning).

Middle School is a different developmental stage than high school and the learning methodology is different. Students of that age are more somatically based and, while expressive, are less able to objectify their thought process. The nice thing about students of this age is often their willingness to try new things, to be less concerned about how they look to others and more captivated by novelty, as if they have fewer filters up between their emotional reactions and the people around them, which can make teaching this age a whole lot of fun.

“Normally, it takes a few lessons before the older students begin to lean in and actively engage with our curriculum” as Haylee explained.  “But these middle schoolers were brimming with excitement to have a guest, curious about what I was teaching, and ready to jump into games, discussions, and even meditation.”

She went on to describe how it worked. “The middle school curriculum is specifically designed to cater to the unique developmental needs of children aged 11 to 14, and we made some fun adaptations to accommodate their stage of growth. We incorporated physical movement, storytelling, and play into our activities, as younger adolescents are more connected with their bodies. This led to a lot of acting, charades, and group movement activities that allowed them to explore the connection between their movement, awareness, and emotions. Even the teachers joined in and eagerly anticipated the movement breaks in their school day!

To help the students contemplate long-term consequences and develop systems thinking skills, I would act out scenarios and tell stories for them to respond to. Their engagement was truly heartwarming. During pivotal moments in the story, you could hear a chorus of “oooo,” “no way!” and “awww.” I was pleasantly surprised by how well the students grasped the more complex emotional layers and decision-making that these stories elicited.”

To pass on her learning, Haylee trained other Inner Strength instructors at our bi-monthly day-long professional development sessions this past month. Now the team is looking forward to expanding our instruction at middle schools next year.

Middle School students respond to the question “Recall a time when you felt happiness joy.”

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