The faculty, staff and students of Samuel Gompers Elementary School practice mindfulness in everything they do. According to Principal Phillip DeLuca, the Wynnefield elementary school is the only school in the School District of Philadelphia to offer a class on mindfulness.
“We’re really proud that we had our mindfulness class before the pandemic. Now with the pandemic, the school district has put a much bigger focus on social and emotional learning since we already had this class in place, it was a really easy transition for us,” he said.
The principal said the class is something that will help the kids in all aspects of their lives.
“Every day, we start by taking deep breaths, it starts to create like a calming sensation inside of you, meditation, like how to get in the moment and start to appreciate all that you have. When you do these things, suddenly your problems become a lot less,” DeLuca said. “Students learn how to talk about problems and to talk about their issues. At Gompers, we create support around each other. We need people to realize that mental health is not just for people that are struggling, it’s for everybody. In the same way that you would take care of your physical health, you need to take care of your mental health.”
The administrator said recent events have made him realize how important practices like mindfulness and breathing can be.
“In 2020, between George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic, breathing is not something that people should ever take for granted. Your ability to breathe is a big deal. We don’t even know we’re breathing, and we don’t even know how perfectly our bodies are breathing,” he said.
Another way, Gompers Elementary uses mindfulness is in its approach to student conflicts. The school has a Justice Council to settle student disputes and infractions. The youth court meets daily to review cases.
“The administration wanted to have a restorative practice in place so principals like myself didn’t always have to use suspension or detention as a form of punishment. The idea behind the Justice Council was to let students have issues settled among their peers,” DeLuca said. “There’s a whole system in place where the parties involved get to state what happened. They look at statements and people get a chance to speak. The group convenes, they look at you know what happened and then they give options as to how the parties can restore or fix what they’ve done.”
The Gompers’ Justice Council has heard more cases than any other youth court in the district and the principal said he couldn’t be prouder.
“In previous years, we had to suspend around 99 to 180 students. Last year, due to a commitment to restorative practices, and with the help of the Justice Council, we only had a total of two out-of-school suspensions,” DeLuca said.
Programs like the Justice Council and the mindfulness class are made possible through the school’s partnerships. One of Gompers’ biggest and longest partnerships is with its neighbor St. Joseph’s University.
“We’re located like right next to St. Joe’s, and the partnership with St. Joe’s is really a tremendous partnership. Our proximity to the university is a big part of the identity that we’ve had since the building’s been there from 1948,” DeLuca said.
He said Gompers is always looking for new and different ways to utilize the university’s resources.
“We’re always trying to find ways to incorporate St. Joe’s support. In the academic area, we utilize them in the form of tutors and classroom support in the area of attendance and morale they’ve been helping us with celebrations. One example would be helping us start the school year off. We normally would have the whole St. Joe’s cheerleading team and the mascot, come out and everybody gets excited about attending school. We couldn’t do that this year thanks to the pandemic,” DeLuca said.
Since they can’t celebrate the school year and student accomplishments the way they normally would, Principal DeLuca has found creative ways to keep up morale.
“I used to do morning announcements, so this year, I was challenged by the staff — specifically the seventh-grade teachers — to do a video every morning. I’ve gotten a little more creative with them. I’ll do stuff like talk about like the power of words and the power that you have when you speak something into existence and positive thinking. I kept saying to them, ‘I’m gonna dunk this basketball.’ I tell them like if they say it, I’ll do it. So of course the ball was really small and the rim was down at like 5 feet. But I still dunked it and it was funny,” the principal said. I’ve been adding my kids into it as well. So each day I try to do something a little different and the kids seem to be excited about it.”
DeLuca said it has been an adjustment moving to online learning but the faculty, staff, students and families at Samuel Gompers can tackle any challenge thrown at them.
“We never give up. We’re going to get through this. No matter what, and we’re going to do it with a smile and we’re in it together. We’re really supportive of one another in getting through difficult times,” the proud principal said. “The school is really a family from the parents to the children. We support each other, there’s no finger-pointing. There’s a lot of love in the school, a lot of love.”