NEWBURYPORT — Students, teachers and members of the community celebrated the grand opening of the Jacalyn Stuart Bennett Mindfulness and Wellness Space Friday morning, a state-of-the-art wellness area for students at the Edward G. Molin Upper Elementary and Rupert A. Nock Middle schools.
Bennett, the founder of Newburyport-based Bennett and Company, said she has had the dream of bringing the practice of mindfulness to young students for years. Thanks to her donation and work in partnership with the Newburyport Education Foundation, her dream for students became a reality.
"Take the time and make the time to be in this special space," Bennett told students Friday. "Please take the opportunity to make a better world around you."
The space officially opened for use in May and is believed to be the first like it in the state, according to Carrie O'Donnell, NEF director. The new area includes a dedicated yoga and mindfulness area, small warm-up room and larger cardio and fitness area with free weights, benches and other equipment.
Nock Principal Lisa Furlong said the space will enhance learning opportunities and wellness practices for students, including stress reduction, physical fitness education and self-regulation. There will be a focus on personalized fitness routines and mindfulness training promoting healthy lifelong choices, she added.
Earlier this year, Michelle Seznec and Zoey Calitri, both 13, started an after-school yoga and mindfulness club in the library. The girls lead their peers through guided meditations and about 20 minutes of yoga once a week. Seznec and Calitri also focus on developing and maintaining a positive body image, reflecting and preparing for the week ahead.
"Let's take a moment of gratitude for Ms. Bennett, who gave us the gift of fitness, mindfulness and meditation," Seznec said to her classmates Friday. "I'm so beyond excited to use the wellness space, where the yoga and meditation club can continue."
The room is located off the side of the gym and offers a calming, reflective area where students can relax. Inside, there are a decorative storage unit, artwork, yoga mats and cushions, side tables and several other decor pieces. Signature items include a small waterfall and two faux living-wall hangings.
A stained glass window with the tree was installed in the side of the building to encourage students to become one with nature. Bennett urged students to practice living and "being" in the present moment. She told students of her own personal experience with practicing mindfulness, noting a few concentrated moments lift her up when she's feeling sad and a few moments of breath awareness give her what she needs to get through the day.
"The mindfulness and wellness center is a quiet place," said Bennett, who encouraged students to become the best versions of themselves. "Self-discovery is one of the most amazing journeys you can take in your life."
Assistant Superintendent Angela Bik has been working to incorporate mindfulness into the Newburyport School District for years. The space, she said, will support students' social and emotional health.
"A priority in Newburyport Public Schools is to teach our students life-long wellness strategies," Bik said.
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.