Good academic performance is one quality that determines a student’s educational success. But in order to achieve true greatness in school — beyond grades and attendance rates — a student must also have the tools necessary to help center their mind in times of stress.

Last year, the nationwide Inner Explorer program was introduced to Dayton Junior High as a pilot program through Gear UP. After the first year that Dayton tried it, ten more schools from local communities adopted the program into their school districts. Then, Dayton was given another year to use the program. It is currently being offered to the junior high by Mrs. Flake as well as Science teacher, Mrs. Carden.

Inner Explorer is a program designed for students all over America. It is offered from Pre-K all the way to 12th grade and consists of a series of daily audio clips, each 5-10 minutes long. The program is dedicated to teaching students learning strategies that strengthen skills like self-control, focus, resilience, and compassion for themselves and others by guiding them through a quiet self-reflection. It also teaches the importance of mindful awareness, which can help students avoid unhealthy mental habits.

Inside the classroom during inner explorer

Students begin the activity at their desks, with their eyes closed. In each audio clip, students are first instructed to focus on their breathing. The clip then guides them  to a happy image in their mind like a sunny garden or the house of a close relative. As the audio continues, students begin to work on managing negative emotions such as stress, anger, and anxiety.

Inner Explorer is about decompressing and slowing down. In these exercises, students don’t have to focus on anything. They have a pocket of time to themselves to breathe and quietly focus on one thing at a time. Then, as class begins, their mind is clearer and they can think about what is important in the moment.

Mrs. Flake is currently offering the Inner Explorer exercises to her junior high students at the beginning of each Transitions class.

In Transitions, students learn effective strategies on note-taking, organization skills, and communication. These core components of the class connect to one main idea: the power of teamwork. Both Inner Explorer and Transitions Class teaches each student how to recognize the importance of their social, academic, and emotional health.

Mrs. Flake believes that practicing mindfulness is crucial to schools everywhere — especially middle schools. “Junior high is a crazy time. Sometimes students don’t feel like they have control of the things happening around them and they can lose sight of themselves. Inner Explorer helps them regain some control.” She explained. She said that it is important to start practicing mindfulness at a young age to help students prepare for their futures, by giving them tools that they can use to manage their lives inside of school and beyond.

Abby Velazquez is a 7th-grade student in Mrs. Flake’s Transitions class who says that Inner Explorer helps her focus in school. “I’m the type of person to stress easily, especially over school work. But [Inner Explorer] makes me feel calm,” she explains. “It makes me feel like if I breathe in and out, I’ll be fine.” She says that the audio clips allow her to slow down and re-center herself.

“It’s gotten to a point where I look forward to it.” She says, “Sometimes I feel like I need it.”

Dayton’s Innovate culture allows the school district to become more open to introducing programs that explore new ideas and skill-building techniques.

With the right tools, as well as encouragement and motivation, students can create amazing learning experiences for themselves that will carry beyond school. This is the truth that motivates Dayton’s educators to explore education with a creative outlook, preparing students for their futures as valuable makers and effective problem solvers.

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.