Monday, February 17, 2014

Student Qualifies for STATE Poetry Out Loud Contest!

The following article was written by one of our English teachers after last week's Montana High School Regionals Poetry Out Loud Contest.

I think I should have worn velcro on the seat of my pants last night… it certainly would have made it easier to stay seated after hearing our school champion recite her first poem at the Montana Regionals Poetry Out Loud competition.

As I type, I am so elated from last night’s success that I need to remember to take a deep breath and begin at the beginning.

Chrysalis School participated in Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest, this year. Students select poems from either the print or online anthology to memorize and recite without costumes, props, or other major theatrics. The goal is for students to fully understand the poem they recite, and then use their presentation to channel the essence of that poem. Successful recitations include appropriate cadence, intonation, posture, stance, and a few carefully selected gestures to enhance meaning and convey the emotion(s) from the poem. Students are judged in several categories, including physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, level of complexity, evidence of understanding, and overall performance.

The journey began in November, when each girl at Chrysalis selected a poem and began memorizing. Students were encouraged to select a poem that spoke to them, a poem that held a special meaning that they would want to hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives. They had five weeks to prepare their poems, and when it finally came time to perform them, their hard work paid off. We heard poems such as “We Wear the Mask,” “Harlem,” and  “To the Desert” in the December 19th classroom competition. Each English class produced a champion for their grade and these champions moved on to the school-wide competition.

Our four classroom champs faced off on January 23rd, which proved to be a fun evening filled with poetry and music. For this round, girls needed to have two poems rehearsed. After performing their first poem, we had a brief musical intermission for other girls to showcase their talents (and to allow the judges to begin tallying scores). We are extremely lucky to have so many girls with diverse talents here, and I’m glad to work in an environment where they feel safe enough to share those talents in front of a large group. After the second round of poems, one contestant emerged as the school-wide winner and we all celebrated the evening with scones, muffins, and apple cider provided by our Freshman/Junior English teacher.

Our school champ spent the following two and a half weeks poring over poetry, surgically tearing it apart, stitching it back together, and wringing every last drop of emotion out of the selection she’d bring to regionals, and she wasn’t working alone. The Poetry Out Loud Montana State Champion from a few years ago is now living in town and came out to help coach our girl on her road to success.

I was lucky enough to take our school-wide winner to regionals in Missoula just last night. The velcro-bottomed pants is only a slight exaggeration; while I managed to stay in my seat, it required an exorbitant amount of willpower. The poems went smoothly and our student reported feeling very pleased with her performance before the winners were announced, so whether she advanced to state or not, she was going to be making the drive home with a smile on her face.

We huddled together as they announced the seven finalists who would be advancing to state… and squealed with joy when our Chrysalis girl was announced!

I cannot express how elated I am that Chrysalis participated in Poetry Out Loud this year. All of our girls can carry a meaningful poem with them for the rest of their lives, a mantra to soothe them in times of turmoil or an incantation to bring a smile in times of joy. As a therapeutic school, many of our girls realize how powerful a tool poetry can be. I’m also so proud that we have proven that our girls are smart enough, diligent enough, and mature enough to compete on a state-wide level. I’d like to send out a very heartfelt thanks to all of the staff at Chrysalis and families at home for encouraging our girls to be the best they can be in all areas of their lives, for it’s this excellent support network that makes our girls so successful.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Using Mindfulness to Slow Down and Make Different Choices

Many of the students who come to Chrysalis present with anxiety, depression, impulsivity, emotional regulation issues, and difficulty distinguishing between thoughts and emotions.  Mindfulness practices teach students to begin to slow down their busy minds, see the difference between thoughts and emotions, and pause before reacting impulsively to those thoughts and emotions.  The concept of mindfulness originated in Eastern thought and has been translated into Western Psychology as a way to focus one’s attention on the present moment, see unhealthy habitual patterns, and respond in new, healthy ways.  The specific goals are to decrease unhealthy behaviors such as interpersonal chaos and confusion about the self and to increase behaviors related to interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance.  Mindfulness and awareness of one’s own process, patterns, and habits is a key foundation for making these positive behavioral changes.

At Chrysalis, we teach students mindfulness skills to self-regulate attention on the immediate thoughts and feelings that they experience, which promotes increased awareness of how the mind works in the present moment.  Often students are caught in worrying and/or fantasizing about the future; anger and/or shame about the past; and are so unaware of their thoughts and feelings in the moment that they act habitually and continue to act out old, unhealthy patterns. 

When we talk about this with students we often frame it as working on auto-pilot without really slowing down to make a choice about how to handle a particular situation.  Students are encouraged to try to view their present moment experience with curiosity, non-judgmental stance, openness, and acceptance.  The idea is that by promoting curiosity and non-judgment, one is able to slow down and recognize habitual patterns without shutting down or acting out.  In turn, one is then able to think about possible outcomes and respond to situations in new rather than habitual ways. 

Natasha Gregg, MA

Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Activities and Bloomsday Training

It's been a snow filled week here in Eureka, Montana. Chrysalis students are staying cozy and enjoying the fresh snow on the weekends. A group of students are headed to a Forest Service Cabin for a leadership retreat this weekend. Take a look here at why we do leadership retreats.

In other news, the annual Bloomsday 12K training is in full swing! We had twenty-one (!) students show interest in participating in the race this year. Many of these girls have never run a road race before. They will train at morning work out over the next few months, which is also student's PE credit. For the more serious runners in the group, a few girls hope to join the "Sub-One Hour Club" - students who have run the 12K (7.46 miles) race in under an hour.

What are you up to this first week of February? It's still winter here, but we're ok with that because there are numerous opportunities for growth and fun in northwest Montana all year long.