Thanks to Kind Mind SB, a program devoted to bringing mindfulness to the classroom, Santa Barbara students from elementary to high school receive weekly mindfulness training. Ari Goldstein and Avery Voos, alumni of the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the Gevirtz School, are part of the Santa Barbara-based team, which aspires to create a “school culture infused with mindfulness and compassion where students feel safe, supported, and engaged,” according to its website.
Goldstein, who received his Ph.D. with a focus in school psychology from UC Santa Barbara in 2019, is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and lead mindfulness facilitator. Voos, a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara who received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UCSB in 2017, joined the team in its early days, helping pilot mindfulness sessions at Santa Barbara Junior High.
Kind Mind, a part of Mindful Heart Program, run by local psychologist Radhule Weininger, equips students with social emotional tools needed to learn in the face of attentional obstacles. Kind Mind presents alternative strategies to punishment, instead helping students to “becom[e] aware of their internal environment” and “skillfully respond to emotional triggers,” according to the website. This involves a shift from “believing you are your thoughts and feelings” to realizing “you are the one who notices your thoughts and feelings,” Goldstein says. “What do you do with that really strong feeling, that ruminating thought that just won’t go away? We never really teach kids those skills explicitly.”
There are three elements to any mindfulness practice: psychoeducation (learning about mindfulness), the practice itself, and a metaphorically grounded experience (e.g. an anchor that quiets thoughts and feelings rocking the ship). Mindfulness education could involve working on emotional literacy by looking at pictures of animals and observing one’s internal reactions or focusing on physiology and the different muscle groups used to breathe. “There’s not one magic mindfulness practice,” Goldstein says. “It’s really about finding what connects for each group.”
And that’s the beauty of Kind Mind. Whereas other mindfulness programs and apps are what Goldstein calls “one size fits all,” live, local programming led by expert facilitators can be tailored specifically to the unique constelation of needs and strengths within each classroom. “The teachers are the experts on their students,” says Goldstein, so Kind Mind facilitators continually solicit teacher feedback throughout the year and work to adapt the curriculum accordingly.
Goldstein’s Kind Mind work builds on the interest in mindfulness he developed at UCSB in a class taught by Heidi Zetzer, teaching professor and director of the Hosford Counseling and Psychological Services Clinic. He went on to develop and implement a mindfulness program in an elementary school in Carpinteria for his dissertation. A major focus was on getting teachers to buy into mindfulness and giving them ownership over instruction.
Kind Mind is just as much for parents and teachers as it is for students. “With any of these social emotional initiatives, I believe it's important to…work the teaching into the larger school culture in order to bolster any impact the intervention may have for students,” says Goldstein. To acomplish this goal, Kind Mind also offers workshops for teachers and parents who are interested in learning more about mindfulness practice and how to teach it to youth. Through the weekly live sessions and audio clips perpared by Kind Mind facilitators, teachers are exposed to mindfulness leadership, which they can then incorporate with their students during the rest of the school week. “Teaching is a hard job,” Goldstein says, so the hope is that teachers also learn how to practice mindfulness for themselves.
That’s how Voos first got involved with mindfulness. During her second year of graduate school, “finding a practice that allowed me to slow down, to cope with long days and stressful situations, was really helpful to me personally,” she says. Simultaneously, she was reading up on mindfulness, and the positive findings dovetailed with her experiences working at the Koegel Autism Center with parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder dealing with high levels of stress.
And so began the merging of her personal and professional interest in mindfulness. Voos praised Assistant Professor Ty Vernon, her dissertation advisor and Koegel Autism Center director, for his flexibility when she switched her dissertation to translational research on mindfulness, a burgeoning passion of hers. She adapted a Mindful Parenting curriculum to better fit the needs of parents with children on the spectrum and reported findings of decreased parental stress and reduced frustration within the parent-child relationship.
Goldstein notes that CCSP’s partnerships with local schools provided a space where he could develop as a therapist and mindfulness educator. During group therapy sessions Goldstein led during his practicums, he experimented with existing mindfulness curricula and gauged his students’ reactions. That firsthand experience has influenced the development of his own curriculum. Additionally, through his predoctoral internship at The Help Group (a Los Angeles-based community mental health center), he developed and led mindfulness groups and workshops for parents, teachers, and other mental health providers.
Similarly, Voos says her “most influential and critical learning as a clinician was at my practicum sites,” which included the Koegel Autism Center, the Hosford Clinic, and Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM). She praised Associate Teaching Professor Steve Smith, her Hosford Clinic supervisor, for allowing her to “integrate what I was learning at UCSB with my own humanness and personality.” The further training she received through her predoctoral internship at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Los Angeles and experience working directly with children and adolescents with a mindfulness-based approach “made me into the clinician I am today,” she says.
Voos now works as a clinical psychologist for adolescents, and young adults in private practice in Santa Barbara. Given her vision of bringing mindfulness to all children, she saw Kind Mind as “the perfect volunteer opportunity.” Goldstein, who is also a lead researcher evaluating Kind Mind’s programs, is working towards completing the post-doctoral requirements to be a licensed psychologist under Weininger’s supervision. Through Kind Mind, Goldstein and Voos are continuing the exploration and application of mindfulness they first took on at UCSB.