For Penelope Feliciano, moving from New Jersey to Texas in November of 2011 seemed a scary prospect. Then, she found the perfect fit in Leander High School.

“It almost seems like someone had it completely planned out, how everything is just tying in so nicely,” Feliciano said.

Feliciano teaches Spanish as a part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Spanish, as Feliciano’s first language, is something she is passionate about, especially from a cultural standpoint, and she shares that passion for culture with her students every day.

“I believe it’s a beautiful culture, not just a language,” Feliciano said. “Although we are learning the Spanish language, we incorporate events and politics and social issues going on around the world.”

LHS teacher Penelope Feliciano

As an IB teacher, Feliciano has the flexibility to focus on worldly topics and bring those topics to life for her students through classroom activities and projects. She strives to make education “real” for her students, to help them find a connection to themselves, their families and their culture, to be mindful of how the world affects them personally.

Mindfulness, in fact, is a prospect she teaches her students every day during the first three minutes of every class period.

When the bell rings and her students have been greeted, she enters the classroom and turns off the lights. Her students turn to the front of the room as she turns on meditation-type music in the background.

“And we’ll just go through a breathing exercise. We’ll do a body scan, which is kind of making them aware of their physical state of being at that moment,” Feliciano said.

Then, she asks them to do a body scan: “How does your head feel? How do your feet? And your back? Are you tired?”

Next, she brings awareness to their consciousness: “What are your thoughts? What are you thinking about? Is anything holding you back?”

Finally, as the three minutes wrap up, she encourages the students to cleanse and to move forward: “Now we’re going to let go. Let go of anything that isn’t useful. Let go of anything that’s bringing you down. Let go of anything that would impede you from your full capacity of learning.”

Mindfulness in education is an avenue to teach students how to cope with stress, to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and to create an awareness in students that exceeds the focus on a pass or fail grade. Feliciano has found that, not only do her students enjoy the practice, she finds it vital to teaching her students as a “whole-student approach.”

“Mindfulness just kind of brings it all together so nicely,” Feliciano said. “They know I am helping them to cope, and to accept that sometimes, even when in your eyes you don’t see something as success, to find the growth.”