Dean Melen: Building Mindfulness One Breath at a Time
Posted by Corey Burdick on 1/21/2020 1:00:00 PM
Note: This guest post is from Mathias Henson, a student in Professor Joyce Hendley's Strategic Writing class at the University of Vermont, a class that develops community partnerships to help local not-for-profit organizations. The class worked with the Healthy Schools program in fall 2019.
Every day, all across the South Burlington School District, Chamberlin Elementary School Counselor Dean Melen is making people happy. He might not always be in the room with them, but his influence on the South Burlington Healthy Schools Mindfulness Program is felt in the program’s work to help students and faculty move through their days in the most holistically healthy way possible.
Melen has long been interested in the inner workings of the mind and body and how they intersect. He came to the district in 1995, from the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Vermont, and helped create the Mindfulness Program, now in its 13th year. The mission of the program, he says, is to “help keep children healthy in all regards so they can become good citizens--with good academic foundations as well as social and emotional strength.”
One of the crown jewels of the program, in Melen’s mind, is something that is often overlooked in everyday life: breathing. As early as Kindergarten, children in the district are shown how to pause and take a deep breath--a fundamental but powerful action that can help them calm down and focus by centering them.
In this simple mindfulness exercise, students practice relaxing their bodies, quieting their voices and slowing their breathing. This helps establish an appreciation for how the relaxed body feels--and a recognition that everyone can benefit from this self-care practice. The district’s attention to mindfulness is continued throughout students’ elementary, middle and high school careers and it is now producing long-term results in helping students feel more grounded, he believes. “It’s the small things, like a student who has learned how to take deep, grounding breaths before speaking out in anger,” he notes. “That’s when we know our work is making a difference.”
An avid outdoorsman who makes sure to jet out to the west coast to visit his (now-adult) kids every summer. Melen finds his own relaxation in nature with fishing, kayaking, and visiting the shoreline of Maine. “That’s where I find peace and happy memories,” he said.