Robin Beasley's fourth-grade classroom at Casey Elementary School in far South Austin is just cool. It's also calm and thoughtful.
Using lamps instead of overhead lights, calm colors like shades of purple and green and a variety of seating spots and types, it's the kind of place where all kids, including those who have sensory processing differences or attention deficit disorders, can learn.
After gym class one Monday morning, the 18 students return to their classroom and find a comfortable spot. On the big screen, Beasley shows two different exercises that are part of the Stop, Breathe & Think app.
The first has them plant their feet if they are standing or plant their bottoms if they are sitting. An animated gorilla guides them through wiggling body parts in a controlled manner. The music tells them how to wiggle, either slow or fast or with big or small movements. Then the gorilla asks them to breathe in and breathe out, then asks them how much energy they had when they started and how much energy they have now.
It's perfect for getting all the leftover energy from P.E. out of their bodies.
The class does one more Stop, Breathe & Think exercise. This time, they follow a fish on the screen that swims in a square route. They breathe in as the fish goes to the side and then breathe out as it goes down, in again as it goes to the other side and out again as it goes up. They trace the fish with their fingers in the air while breathing in and out, in and out.
Stop, Breathe & Think began offering teachers a free version of its app in August, and Beasley is just one of about 250 teachers in Austin Independent School District who have signed up to use it, according to app creators Jamie Price and Julie Campistron.
They both left big companies like L'Oreal and Yahoo. As Campistron says, "What I decided I wanted is for my next career move to have a positive impact."
"The promise of mindfulness is strong," Price says. "It's the implementation of it that gets tricky."
Stop, Breathe & Think tries to make that "as seamless as possible," Price says. The junior version of the app is geared toward kids with shorter activities that are engaging. "It's unrealistic to think that kids will adapt a formal mindfulness practice," Price says.
Stop, Breathe & Think offers support and resources in an educator portal that gives teachers ideas on how to integrate the app into the day.
Beasley uses it two to three times a week as a big group, but her classroom also has a station by the class bearded dragon — Elliott's Zen Zone — where they can sit with headphones and a tablet to use the app, or they can bring a tablet and headphones elsewhere in the room or even out in the hallway to use the app individually.
"I calm myself down," Beasley's student Kendies Lacson says. "I take deep breaths."
Often Beasley uses the app with the group when they are doing transitions from specials like P.E., music and art back to the classroom or after lunch or recess.
"It relaxes you," says student Isabella Marin. "It helps me breathe." She also says the app helps her think about what's wrong and identify what relaxes her.
Beasley, who has a background in special education and a master's degree in behavior analysis, has been incorporating mindfulness in her own life as well. Her students see her taking her own deep breaths when she needs to. Sometimes they'll even point out to her the stress they see in her. "Mrs. Beasley, I think we should take some mindful breaths," she says her students tell her.
"I do have kids that think it's weird," she says, but what she's noticed about this class is "they work out conflict better than any other class."
She attributes that to their ability to recognize their emotions and manage them.
Student Madison Hernandez says the class has a lot better friendships than other classes because of Stop, Breathe & Think.
Isabella agrees and says that's because it helps them understand their emotions. "It calms us down whenever we are mad," says Ariana Pina.
"We really want these practices and this habit of emotional wellness to be something that's accessible and adopted by kids widely," Campistron says. "The impact it has on them, it creates kinder communities in general."
Beasley also uses it to help with academics. Stress and how students manage it, she says, often impacts how well kids do on tests like the STAAR.
"You need to believe in yourself," Beasley says. "What do you do when you're stressed?"
With the middle-of-the-year testing, "Stop, Breathe & Think calmed us down a lot," Kendies says.
Madison envisions that during STAAR testing, she'll start doing some of the breathing exercises she's learned with the app. "STAAR testing is hard and frustrating," she says.
"Whenever you are really stressed, you watch one and it helps you destress," student Josiah Garza says about the app's exercises.
Stop, Breathe & Think is just one of the things Beasley is doing in the classroom. She won a grant to create a S.P.A.C.E. classroom, which stands for Sensory Processing Advanced Classroom Environment. When students come into the room, they can sit anywhere they like: raised desks with raised chairs, chairs with bicycle pedal stands, exercise balls, chairs that are cushiony, regular chairs. It's first come, first served, and if there's ever a doubt of who gets which desk, they use rock, paper, scissors to work it out.
Beasley says often they don't fight about it. One of them will say to the other one, "I think you need it more right now," Beasley says.
The students also have access to noise-canceling headphones, special touchstone rocks made for each of them with the shape of Mrs. Beasley's finger pushed into the clay to give kids strength, and necklaces they can chew on to work out stress.
Mrs. Beasley's students want more kids to have what they have.
"Maybe we can pass it on to other teachers and the whole school," Isabella says.