Gwynne Park Primary – a whole school wellness program

WA primary has been recognised nationally for its outstanding whole school wellness approach.
Mar 7, 2022
A whole school approach has turned student behaviours around.

Gwynne Park Primary to the south of Perth was an early mover in establishing a wellness program for its campus, it takes a whole school approach and makes its students’ mental health a priority, right up there with learning.

While the school had always been focussed on wellness they wanted to bring what was already happening into a single cohesive program.

Principal Julie Bolingbroke says there had been a lot of suspensions and detentions at the school with a lot of repeated undesirable behaviours and no real solutions to help those students who could not regulate.

The whole school program that started in 2017 has been a big part of turning those behaviours around and has made Gwynne Park a showcase for how to do wellness.

“We had a lot of teachers doing some fabulous programs and mindfulness activities in their classrooms but they weren’t all the same. Our teachers were very stressed and in the afternoons found it hard to even keep the students on task,” says Bolingbroke.

“My passion has always been in helping students and especially in the area of social emotional wellbeing. I always wanted to be more mindful and meditate but I found it hard to sit still and concentrate. Thus, after completing a meditation course, attending yoga sessions, using Smiling Mind’s app I knew we needed to teach this to our students.

“In partnership with Mindful Mediation Australia – making it a whole school approach became a priority.”

Gwynne Park was turned into a school that practices mindful strategies in the classroom, the playground and at school assemblies.

“Our wellness program covers so many areas for our students' social emotional wellbeing. It isn’t just one particular program, it is more about a whole school approach.

“I would have to say one of Gwynne Park Primary School’s major strengths is that we place social and emotional wellbeing as one of our school’s top priorities along with Literacy, Maths, Infusion of Aboriginal Perspectives and STEM.

“Our School has many programs running in the school to address this priority, such as Highway Heroes Program, Be You Program, Mindful Meditation Australia, Smiling Mind’s partnership, Foodbank, Smith Family and Fathering Project, Breakfast Club, After school sports Clubs to just name a few.”

On top of this, the school has a Family and Engagement Support worker and a wellness committee.

“Our biggest success and change to our students and our staff has been our Mindful Meditation Whole approach. This has been our additional layer to our already outstanding programs.

“In 2017 we became the first pilot school to work with Mindful Meditation Australia. Our staff, students and community have embraced this new approach with many changes made to our classrooms as well as outside environment,” she says.

Each classroom has beautifully furnished corners for their students to sit in and posters about mindfulness. Throughout the day teachers and students stop to meditate, take brain breaks and find a moment to be mindful. Every day after lunch the whole school stops to meditate. Many teachers are Smiling Mind members and log in every day to the resources and scripted meditations.

“Our favourite part of the week is our whole school meditation on a Friday at assemblies. This is led by our students with singing bowls, a scripted meditation and a beautiful zen tone drum. This is a truly magical moment as it reminds us all to stop, breathe, be kind and grateful."

The school has many murals featuring positive affirmations, even in their toilets. There is a special meditation room used for special small group meditations for staff and students. The latest project and the pinnacle of the whole approach is the new Mindful Meditation garden.

“Our staff love our meditation sessions just as much as the students and have embraced it whole heartedly as they know the benefits for themselves and the students. If I interrupt their session, they become very unhappy as they have really become dependent on the time after lunch to relax, breathe and be mindful.  It definitely makes my heart sing when I pop into classrooms seeing everyone doing a meditation or mindful colouring.”

Training for teachers was a priority. Gwynne Park started with teachers completing intensive training with Mindful Meditation Australia then students. Lead members of the committee completed an Eric Harrison Perth Meditation course, professional learning in scripted meditations and whole school planning to make it work school wide.

“We have leaders in this area and hold meditation sharing sessions for staff and students. As a Principal, I make it a priority every Friday to do a mediation with our school social worker in our meditation room as a reward with selected students. This is my favourite time of the week.

“We found that the more time we invested in our teachers, the more they would do in the classroom in the way of mindfulness and meditations. A very special Art teacher Ms Kukulj, who suddenly passed away last year was our mindfulness guru. She was the champion of this program. She would start each of her lessons with her beautiful Tibetan bowl and a soulful meditation. The students loved the art experience as well as the art therapy.

“This teacher’s impact on these students has been life changing. Her gift of mindfulness and meditation has been used by the students in times of need. A gift to not only be used at school for breaks between learning and to rest the brain but out of school when a child is stressed or worried or anxious."

The effects of this program are profound. The changes have been very noticeable in the way the students approach their learning and social situations.

“Our behaviour has improved, attendance is high, our teacher absenteeism is low. Our students can deal with stressful situations and are very resilient. Our teachers manage to create a magical feeling for our students in their classrooms with places to sit and relax and be mindful."

The teachers take the time to teach the students easy meditations to be used at home or in times of need, staff often give students a simple reminder to take three deep breaths.

"When we lost our much loved Ms Kukulj, our students had to complete NAPLAN the next day. We started each of the tests with a meditation and a mindfulness quote. Our 2021 our NAPLAN results were at an all-time high and above like schools.

"We have had special phone calls from parents thanking our teachers for teaching their child meditations as they have now taught them how to calm their minds when home is a little stressful."

The school’s Mindful Meditation Garden has been dedicated to Ms Kukulj.

Bolingbroke  describes it as, “A gift to our school and a place where we will never forget our wonderful teacher but also have the joy of sitting in it, playing in it or simply admiring it at passing. The garden gives everyone something special along with a reminder or a moment to be quiet, be still and mindful.

“We were lucky enough to win the Smiling Minds Spaces Competition and work with the amazing Dulux Colour Consultant to come up with our beautiful murals and painting for the garden. We chose the Smiling Mind Space of Gratitude colour scheme.

“We based our design on the Smiling Minds graphics for this space and added our extra touches to make it more personalised to suit our garden in memory of our much loved teacher Ms Kukulj."

Artist Angie Delarie worked with Dulux to complete a mural bearing the words 'Kindness, Gratitude, Inspire' along with students.

The garden has been furnished with recycled mats, bean bags and recycled pallet furniture for seating.

“Our Mindful Meditation garden is a tranquil sanctuary for children and staff to sit, gather their thoughts and reflect on school and its daily events. At recess and lunch students enjoy chatting and enjoying each other’s company while sitting in the garden."

It is a safe, calming place the school offers troubled students who just need some down time to think things through. When the students walk into art class they step through the garden, jumping on the hop scotch like path calling out the quotes of ‘Think Big dream bigger’ and ‘If you think you can you can’, two of Ms Kukulj's favourites.