Friday, November 20, 2015

Kindness Makes a Difference!

Last month was full of amazing things!

It was so much fun celebrating #healthychoices during Red Ribbon Week and seeing what PACT and Star Academy families do to get active, eat healthy and have fun!

We also held #Socktober donations drives at PACT Academy and Star Academy during the month of October and received hundreds of pairs of socks, toiletries, food, clothing, and essentials for families in our community! Proceeds were donated to Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento.

We had such a HUGE response from NCS students and families!

PACT Acts of Kindness Club and the Kind Kids Club 5th graders helped promote the donation drives, creating signs, doing sidewalk chalk art, and spread word to their friends and neighbors!

Some of our 5th grade students at Star Academy in Mrs. Rohrbacker's class even made a short video to spread the word about #Socktober!

How did we do? Check out all of the totals below!

PACT Academy Totals:
511   Toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs/brushes, shampoo/conditioner, etc.)
257  Diapers
250  Pairs of Socks
68    Clothing Items
21    Living Essentials (garbage bags, ponchos, etc.)
33    Combs/Brushes
10    Food Items
5      Stuffed Toys
3      Underwear
2      Backpacks

Total Number of Items: 1,160

Star Academy Totals:
338   Pairs of Socks
201   Food Items
34     Underwear
33     Toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs/brushes, shampoo/conditioner, etc.)
24     Undershirts
23     Items of Clothing
15     Hats
15     Packages of Baby Wipes
3       Pairs of Gloves
3       Jackets
3       Blankets
2       Belts
1       Scarf
1       Pairs of Shoes
1       Package of Diapers

Total Number of Items: 697

GRAND Total: 1,842 Items
Biggest Totals: 588 Pairs of Socks and 544 Toiletries Items! Wow!

Last week we delivered the items to Loaves and Fishes and filled an entire pallet with items from the donation drives. These items will be distributed to men, women, and children in the Loaves and Fishes programs, including their Mustard Seed School which had recently seen a record increase in the number of students attending (see Sacramento Bee Article here).

Loaves and Fishes also served their 7 millionth meal in September!
(You can read more here).

I would just like to express my thanks and gratitude to all of the students and families who helped support our #Socktober donation drives and helped give back to our Sacramento Community! 

A special thanks to PACT Acts of Kindness Club and Kind Kids Club 5th Graders!

It's so amazing how a little kindness can make such a huge difference.

If you'd like to learn about some other ways to share kindness during the upcoming holiday season, you can find some ideas below. 

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a wonderful holiday break.

Sacramento 211

Sacramento 211 - Thanksgiving Assistance and Volunteer/Donation Opportunities

Sactown Magazine
Fun ways to give back this Holiday Season (Sactown Magazine):

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#Socktober 2015: Star Academy

It's that time of year again!

Last year, as part of the Kind Kids Club, we organized a small donation drive in 5th Grade, benefitting the Loaves and Fishes non-profit organization in Sacramento. This year, we'd like to expand it school-wide and invite everyone at Star Academy to participate!

Read about what we did last year:

What is #Socktober? 
Here is #Socktober's founder, Kid President, to provide an explanation:

You can find out more about the history of #Socktober here:

How does my student/family participate in #Socktober?
It's easy! We are collecting new socks or essentials on the list below. You can bring any of these items to school during the month of October. You can also talk to you neighbors or local businesses and see if they'd like to donate as well! Donation bins are located in classrooms and at the front desk.

You can also share what you're doing for #Socktober on social media! 
#NCSStar #Socktober #KindKidsClub

Last day of collection will be Friday, October 30th.

Please contact me if you have any questions:


Donation List: 
Printable Flyer: HERE

Urgent Items:
Loaves and Fishes' Mustard Seed school is currently impacted and for the first time will start a waiting for students. 
Clothes, socks, and undergarments for older children, 3rd-8th grade. 
Gift card donations for: Payless, Walmart, and Target

You can read more here in the recent Sacramento Bee Article:

October Needs List:

Women's New Underwear - Sleeping Bags & Blankets - Tennis Shoes - Baby Wipes
Size 5 & 6 Diapers - Children's Belts - Clorox Wipes - Travel Size Toothpaste
Healthy Snacks - Granola bars, applesauce, etc. - Children's New Rain Gear
Ground Coffee/Coffee Mugs - Men's Shoes - Reading Glasses  - Old Prescription Glasses

Basic Needs List:
New socks - Warm Gloves - Scarves - Knit Hats - Q-tips - Toothpaste and Brushes
Shampoos (large & small) - Conditioners (small) - Lotion (small) - Deodorant
Brushes/Combs - Small Sewing Kits - Small First Aid Kits - Rain Ponchos - Blankets

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Be Kind to Yourself

For the past few weeks, my thoughts have been focused on Kindness!

At the beginning of September, I kicked off the Kind Kids Club with 1st grade students at Star Academy, and last Friday we began the PACT Acts of Kindness Club with our homeschool students!

Students and Parents from the PACT Acts of Kindness Club making posters for our #Socktober Donation Drive which runs the month of October.

Kindergarten students received "Kindness Capes" made by the 1st Grade students. Kindergarten students get to wear them in class when they demonstrate kindness or caring for others!

I feel very grateful that as part of my job, I have to opportunity to share the concept of kindness with children and families. I really enjoy seeing the excitement on students' faces when they've done something kind for someone else and hearing about the happiness it brings them.

Last year, when we were learning about kindness, we talked a lot about the places where you can show kindness to others: at home, at school, and in your community. This year, I'm bringing the focus of kindness inward and talking about how you can also be kind to...

Students are always surprised to hear this! I usually get quite a few perplexed looks and furrowed brows. I know they're thinking, "How can you be kind to yourself?"

As I explain more, many of them realize they are already practicing self-kindness:
  • Choosing to eat healthy and fresh foods to nourish their bodies
  • Staying active and playing outside
  • Getting enough sleep at night 
  • Making safe choices: wearing a seatbelt in the car, wearing a helmet when biking, etc.
  • Taking care of ourselves: brushing our hair, brushing our teeth, taking a bath/shower, etc.
  • Planning time to relax and have fun
However, one aspect of self-kindness that's not so well practiced is called 

Self-compassion is extending understanding and encouragement to yourself when things don't go your way or when you've made a mistake. 

We can choose to speak kindly to ourselves instead of critically. 

        Instead of:                                                             

        "I'm so stupid!"
        "Nobody likes me."
        "I am worthless."
        "It's all my fault."
        "Bad things always happen to me!"
        "I'll never be good at that."
        "I can't believe I said that."
        We can say:

       "I'm trying my best. I won't give up!"
       "I'm going to try some new ways to make friends."
       "I have the right to feel good. I am worth it. "
       "I did my best but things still didn't work out. 
       "It's okay when things don't go my way. That's life!"
       "My hard work will pay off. It takes time to learn new things."
       "Everyone makes mistakes. I'm going to think of ways to repair that relationship."

Essentially, we should try and treat ourselves the way we would treat a close friend who was going through the same problem. This is important, because the thoughts and words we use to talk to ourselves eventually become our experience. In addition, self-compassion or kindness helps reduce anxiety, depression, insecurity and is associated with more consistent feelings of self worth.

According to Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, this kind of self-compassion helps children build a stable sense of self, not dependent on social status, awards/trophies, or good grades:

"Kindness begins when we understand that we all struggle. Teach your children to talk kindly to themselves versus being critical. This builds a stable sense of self. Self-criticism isn't helpful and only produces a variety of negative consequences, including feeling badly about oneself. Next time your children start saying something critical, point this out to them and then teach them to reframe these thoughts into something positive and forgiving."

"The way we communicate with our children establishes a blue print for how they will eventually communicate with themselves."

"Talk to them in a non-critical way. Teach them how to self soothe during difficult times. Say to a small child, 'Let's practice hugging ourselves like mom and dad do to make you feel better. You can do this for yourself when you feel bad to remember how much you are loved.' Teach older children to put their hand on their heart to self-soothe when upset. These small gestures help them value and feel good about themselves just as they are no matter what is going on." 

"Remind your children that they are not alone in experiencing this difficult thing, other kids feel the exact same way. Everyone struggles, feels inadequate, does not get approved of, or fails at something in life. It's part of our common humanity. This helps normalize what a child is going through and reduces shame and embarrassment over mistakes made and not feeling good enough."

(Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, UW Health)

So the next time you find yourself facing a challenge or realize you've made a mistake - take a moment to breathe (with the kids) and extend some kindness to yourself...and if there's any kindness left over, pass it on to the next person you see! 

"It's okay when things don't go my way!" 

"Be Kind...Pass it on!"
1st Grade Kindness Capes

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Welcoming the School Year with Mindfulness

Last week we began the new school year. There is something wonderful about starting new and opening our minds to growth, knowledge, and learning!

There's nothing I enjoy more than learning something new (whether it's new research related to social-emotional learning or a skill, a tool, a resource) and having the opportunity to share it with colleagues, families, and the students I work with.

Over the summer, I decided to learn more about mindfulness and begin a mindfulness practice in my own life. Self-care is such an important part of daily life for counselors (and everyone!) but can easily be neglected and pushed aside when obligations to work, school, community, and family take priority.

What is Mindfulness?
 Mindfulness is intentionally bringing awareness to one's experience or present state of being with gentle observation and without judgement.

Mindfulness can be described as a state, a trait, or a practice (Mindful Schools, 2015). We can have a moment of mindfulness, we can carry out mindful practices, or we can engage in mindfulness on a regular basis. Formal mindful practice utilizes different activities to practice awareness: mindful walking, mindful actions/interactions, mindful eating, or seated mindfulness (Mindful Schools, 2015).

When you’re being mindful, you pay attention to what is going on inside of you, noticing:
  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • sensations
  • impulses
You also pay attention to what’s going on outside of you, noticing what you:
  • see
  • hear
  • smell
  • feel 
Adapted from: Marielle Berg, MFT
How Does Mindfulness Work?
Mindfulness changes the brain! Studies show that regular mindfulness practice is associated with shrinking in the brain's stress response center (the amygdala). As this area decreases in volume, the frontal cortex which is responsible for higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration, and decision-making actually becomes thicker! (Scientific American, 2014).

In addition, the connectivity between these regions of the brain undergoes changes. The connections between areas of the brain associated with attention and concentration get stronger, while the connections between the "stress response" center and the rest of the brain get weaker. What this means for the individual practicing mindfulness is that they are less likely to respond in a reactive, emotional manner and more likely respond with empathy and thoughtfulness.

Why is Mindfulness Important?
The scientific research behind mindfulness is growing each day. Studies show that mindfulness can be a powerful tool for dealing with anxiety, increasing focus, and improving mood (Mindful Schools, 2015). Studies with K-12 grade students demonstrate improvements in working memory, academic skills, social skills, emotional regulation, and self-esteem, as well as self-reported decreases in stress and fatigue (Srinivasan, 2014).

Mindfulness training can also benefit students by increasing sense of well-being in teachers and contributing positively to classroom management and relationships with students (Srinivasan, 2014). Teachers trained in mindfulness techniques also showed lower blood pressure, less symptoms of depression and negative emotions, as well as greater compassion and empathy (Greater Good UC Berekeley, 2015).

Mindfulness practices are also good for parents! Studies show mindfulness may reduce anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. In addition, parents who practiced mindfulness reported being happier with their relationship with their children, felt more satisfaction with their parenting, and in turn, their children demonstrated more advanced social skills (Greater Good UC Berekeley, 2015).

How Does Mindfulness Benefit Children?
Mindfulness benefits children in that it provides them the tools they need to regulate their emotions, focus better, and be more successful in their relationships with others. However, research also shows that mindfulness can help children perform better in school and make academic gains (TIME, 2015).

Researchers provided four months of mindfulness training to one group of 4th and 5th grade students in British Columbia, while a second group of 4th and 5th grade students received standard "social responsibility" education.

During those four months, students in the mindfulness group participated in sensory exercises like mindful smelling and mindful eating, as well as exercises which asked them to view an issue from another's perspective. In addition, students did a three-minute mindfulness exercise three times a day that focused on breathing.

After a number of in-depth measures, researchers found that students in the mindfulness group had 15% better math scores, showed 24% more social behaviors, were 24% less aggressive and perceived themselves as 20% more prosocial. The mindfulness group also performed better in areas of cognitive control, stress levels, emotional control, levels of optimism, empathy, and aggression (TIME, 2015).

In the clip below, Susan Kaiser Greenland (author of "The Mindful Child") demonstrates using mindfulness awareness with young children in a classroom.  Even the youngest children can learn mindfulness: learning to be aware of their bodies, their thoughts and feelings, understanding the feelings of those around them, and techniques like breathing to handle those big feelings in a safe and healthy way.


In this other video, children from a school in Ireland share their experience practicing mindfulness and what it means to them. What I really appreciate about mindfulness is that there is a huge emphasis on kindness (to self and others) and gratitude. Practicing acts of kindness and taking time each day to reflect on things you are grateful for are examples of ways to practice mindfulness!

Older children and teens can utilize mindfulness as a tool to help them handle stress, navigate relationships and social situations, relieve test anxiety, and experience more happiness in their lives. In this video clip from Mindfulness for Teens, adolescents share how practicing mindfulness helped them to slow down and enjoy the present moment. 

Mindfulness Resources
There are many great mindfulness resources out there for children and adults. Some of my favorite books, videos, and websites are listed below. 

Be kind to yourself and others. Stay Mindful! 

Greater Good
University of California, Berkeley
Information, articles, and videos about mindfulness, as well as the latest scientific research. 

Susan Kaiser Greenland
Author of "The Mindful Child"


Mindfulness for Teens 
11 free guided mindfulness exercises, mindful breathing, blog and videos

Dr. Daniel Siegel
Author of "The Mindful Brain"


Mindful Schools
Offers mindfulness courses and certification, resources and videos for parents and educators, and free mindfulness exercises.


Healthy Habits of Mind Documentary (Free) 42 minutes


Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel
Mindfulness Exercises for Kids and their Parents
Interview with the Author


Anneka Harris
Author of "I Wonder"
Free Mindfulness Exercises for Children

Monday, May 18, 2015

Community Kindness - Front Street Animal Shelter

During the month of January, 4th grade students in the Kind Kids Club collected donations for the Front Street Animal Shelter as part of their Community Kindness Project. Students were very interested in the work that the shelter does to help animals and some students shared their experiences visiting the shelter or adopting a pet!

Here are some videos we watched to learn about Front Street Animal Shelter:

Opt to Adopt at Front Street Shelter 

Lady's Story: Front Street Animal Shelter

After weeks of collecting donations in class, the hard work and kindness of 4th graders and their families yielded a huge outcome: WOW!

  • 57 Dog and Cat Toys!!!
  • 7 Blankets
  • 7 Bags of Dog and Cat Treats
  • 7 Bags/Cans of Dog and Cat Food
  • 4 Food Dishes
  • 4 Pieces of Dog Clothing
  • 2 Beds
  • 15+ sections of newspaper
  • Monetary Donations: (5 dollars and lots of pennies!)
In March I visited the Front Street Animal Shelter to drop off the Kind Kids Club donations and learn more about the animals that live at Front Street while they wait to be reunited with their families, find a new family, or receive medical treatment.

There are two buildings which house adoptable dogs, a special "cattery" building which houses adoptable cats, a medical/surgical building, a food donation closet (for those who cannot afford to feed their animal), and a special "get acquainted area" for animals and potential families to get to know each other. The shelter is a very welcoming place and there are many dedicated volunteers who care for the animals and work hard to make the shelter "home" for the animals.

I met some very friendly dogs and curious cats during my visit.

Interested in adopting from Front Street? 

You can find more information here

Would you like to volunteer with Front Street or help support animals in other ways?

More about Donating to Front Street Animal Shelter:
Current Wish List:

Foster Care Wish List:

A special thanks to the 4th grade students and their families for all of their donations and hard work! Kindness can change the world!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Eli Today Update - Guest Blogger Diana Patterson

Diana Patterson is a stay at home mom of three. Diana and her family have been a part of the NCS community since 2011.  Prior to staying at home Diana worked in the accounting industry.

Hello Everyone! I cannot believe Autism Awareness is here again. When Jenifer Pearsall approached me with the idea of spreading Autism Awareness at Star Academy I was 1000% percent on board. Thank you for taking the time to participate in our events and keeping an open mind.  Last year Jenifer and I wrote an 8 blog series during the month of April to help spread awareness.  A couple of those blogs were personal blogs about how we found out our kids were on the spectrum and what a day in the life of our children looks like.  This year we’re making Autism Awareness month bigger than last year!   If you  didn’t get to see how we learned about Eli’s diagnosis or a day in the life of Eli blog posts from last year I will include the links at the end of this post.

When Eli was diagnosed with Autism I was afraid of what the future held for my little guy. Just like a lot of parents who are first diagnosed; I had no idea what our life would look like. Every time I asked a doctor or therapist if my son would talk or be potty trained or socialize the answer was always the same “I can’t say for sure”.  That was so frustrating for me because all I wanted was to know what my future looked like.  At first all I wanted to hear is that Eli was going to be okay later on in life.  Then I realized that what I was expecting doctors and therapists to look into their crystal ball and comfort me.  C’mon Diana! There’s no way that’s even possible so I stopped asking and started focusing on goals and taking him out on playdates.  Since last April Eli has made great progress in all areas.  During the summer we actually got potty trained!!!!  I assumed that he would be in diapers till he was six but Eli surprised us all. He’s fully day and night potty trained.

Eli began preschool last November. He has been going to school and coming home on the school bus Monday through Thursday.  Eli was pretty scared at first but we worked on it and he now loves to ride the bus. He doesn’t like the loud sound the bus makes when the bus driver turns on the car but we’re slowly getting used to the loud sound. I’ve taught him to cover his ears and say “It’s too loud” when sounds hurt his ears. We’re still working on talking, understanding language and responding to questions. 

Family wise, Eli has built a wonderful bond with everyone of us. Eli follows my husband around and when he comes home from work Eli yells out “Daddy’s Home!” They play basketball, videogames, and race cars together. Sometimes my husband even gets Eli to try new foods. Eli and our 8 year old, Irie, have built a great relationship as well. Prior to therapy Eli had a strong relationship with myself, his oldest sister and grandmother because we were able to fulfill his needs without much effort.  Playing with Irie was hard for him because he wasn’t able to properly play with toys, his body wasn’t regulating correctly, and he didn’t have the words to communicate.  Nowadays, you will catch them playing chase, tickling each other, playing with toys and watching toy review videos on YouTube.

Our toughest obstacle right now is getting Eli to speak before he gets overwhelmed. Another obstacle is his response time after he is asked a question. He takes a while to respond to and we're not sure if he's processing or just not engaged. There are times when I need to ask him the same question. I’ve been dealing with more meltdowns lately. I think it's because he was home sick off and on for about three weeks in February. Consistent routine seems to be something he really really needs. The challenge with dealing with meltdowns is trying to figure out what initiated the meltdown.  Eli continues to work hard everyday.  All in all we’re doing well and we’re Thankful for our blessings.

Thank you so much for allowing us to share our story with all of you. I truly hope that Autism Awareness Month at Star Academy is something that all of the Star Parents look forward to every year.   Till next time. Stay fab!

P.S. I started my own YouTube Channel check it out if you have time!

Diana’s Story: Learning about Eli’s Diagnosis

A day in the life of Eli

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Emma Today Update - Guest Blogger Jenifer Pearsall

Jenifer Pearsall is a parent of a second grade student at Star Academy as well as a daughter with autism. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology as well as a multiple-subject teaching credential.  She has taught elementary school as well as assisted in various preschool programs.  Currently, she is a stay-at-home mom who keeps busy with the house, kids, one dog, one cat and all of the chaos that it brings!  She is passionate about autism awareness and educating others about the disorder.

Well, it has been a year since I last wrote a blog “update” on Emma, so it is a good time to do it now. Looking back at what I wrote a year ago, I have to say, not a whole lot has changed with regards to her daily schedule. Of course, with her diagnosis of autism, she prefers that very little changes in her daily routine and schedule! She is now 10 years old, almost 11 (in June) and is still attending Land Park Academy, a non-public school for children and young adults on the spectrum.  She has a new teacher this year and has adjusted well to her, thankfully. The support staff at the school are so wonderful. They really help make change and transitions go as smoothly and easily as possible. 

Emma attends Land Park Academy every day, Monday thru Friday, from 8 am until 1:30 pm. Currently, she is working on learning how to read sight words off of index cards and how to do simple math. She continues to work on increasing her communication skills (asking for what she wants or needs, responding to questions asked about her like “What school do you go to?” and “What is your Mom’s name?”, and using complete sentences), self-help skills (brushing teeth, washing hands, toileting) and social skills (learning to take turns playing simple games). She also has a classroom chore every day (taking out the trash, leading calendar, cleaning tables, etc.) and participates in art, music, and daily exercising. In addition, she attends speech therapy 3 times a week and occupational therapy 2 times a week, all while at school. She has a full schedule!


These 2 pictures were taken at my parents’ house in St. George, Utah. We visited them over Spring Break. It was a nice, relaxing vacation!

 Once she is home from school, her work is not done. She also has 3 hours of in-home ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy every day, Monday through Friday. I tell Ashlyn that this is Emma’s homework! She has started doing some simple household chores like collecting the garbage, making her bed, and wiping down the bathroom counter with a baby wipe. She is currently working on increasing communication, playing with toys appropriately (moving the toy trains on the train tracks rather than simply lining them up on the window sill), and, most challenging at the moment, wearing appropriate clothing (Undergarments!) She is almost 11 years old and is going through puberty, so you can imagine what changes are happening to her body! She still refuses to wear a bra or any type of undershirt and now, as of our recent vacation over Spring Break, is also refusing to wear underwear. SIGH… She wears soft, elastic waist pants and long sleeve, baggy shirts every day and tennis shoes with no socks. This is, and probably always will be, a constant struggle with her because of her high sensitivity to touch. Hopefully we will be able to get her wearing short sleeve t-shirts (as well as undergarments!) soon…before it gets to be 100 degrees in Sacramento!!

           Sisters running and playing at the park.              Playing Ring Around the Rosie!

Now, not to get too personal, but I do have to add that one BIG change happened during this past year to Miss Emma. As I said, she is going through puberty, so guess what “present” she got on Christmas Day (yes, really, Christmas Day!)? Yep. Considerable challenge being that she doesn’t want to wear any kind of sanitary products! Fortunately, we did manage to get through the week ok, and she has not gotten another “present” since. I have met with a pediatric gynecologist about what our options are in the future and am now just waiting… On the plus side, Ashlyn now knows all about “it” and will not be scared or worried when she gets her “present”!

Oh, I should mention one other thing that has changed is we are no longer giving her medication. Last year she was taking 2 doses of Risperdal every day to help control her aggression and self-injurious behaviors like banging her head and biting her finger. We did not like the idea of giving her medicine and decided to try to wean her off of it. When we did that, we noticed that the aggression and other behaviors did not return in abundance and so decided she no longer needed it. She is doing fine without it. The only side effect to taking her off the medication was that she had a dramatic decrease in appetite. The medication increased her appetite and caused her to gain a lot of weight. Once we took her off the medicine, it was actually a little scary because she did not want to eat AT ALL. She lost about 10 pounds total and looked noticeably thin. Fortunately, over time, her appetite has increased to a more typical amount for a girl her age and she is at a healthy weight. Oh, and in case you are wondering, she is not eating any new foods from a year ago. She still only eats Banquet brand chicken nuggets, pancakes, scrambled eggs with pureed salsa, Nutri Grain cereal bars, Honey Maid brand graham crackers, Honey Nut Cheerios (dry), my homemade banana bread and Oreos. THAT IS IT. No, really. That. Is. It!

Like I said, not a lot of changes in our day to day life with Emma, but she is definitely growing up and progressing more and more each day. It is exciting to look back and see how far she has come with her talking, interacting with us at home, playing with Ashlyn and helping out more at home. She is very sweet, has an infectious smile and laugh and is an overall happy girl. She loves music, everything from The Wiggles to One Direction and Taylor Swift. Her current favorite things are trains, playing with  a ball tower toy and playing outside at the park with her sister. She is healthy, happy and we are very proud of her!  Thank you for reading!