Cynthia Barney, Lower School Assistant Principal for grades 1-5, is in the 10th year of a doctoral program in educational leadership at Notre Dame of Maryland University. For her dissertation, she has designed a study to measure the effects of mindfulness training on stress hormone levels in children ages 5 to 8.
And she is doing it all at Friends.
Barney’s study focuses on K-3rd graders organized anonymously into experimental and control groups. Over a six-week period in January and February, teachers in the experimental groups gathered students together twice daily, at 10 am and 2 pm, to listen to a soothing three-minute audio. Children in the control group went about their regular schedules.
Working with her Upper School research assistants, Tony Zhu ’19, Lena Saunders ‘19, Ariella Chichilnisky du Lac ’19, Laila Danois ‘20, and Abby Rosenberg ’21, Barney collected four sets of saliva samples from children in both the experimental and control groups – two taken prior to the twice-daily intervention and two at the end.
“I want to look at times during the day when children might experience what I call in my study the ‘emotional tornado,’ where heightened levels of uncertainty and anxiety in children can then lead to their inability to follow directions and self-regulate, and how mindfulness can be a tool for students to calm themselves and therefore, self-regulate,” she said.
Barney sent the biomarkers off to a lab in California last month. As she awaits the results she is reviewing the BRIEFs (behavior rating inventory of executive function) collected from parents and teachers, as well as student self-assessments.
“Once I’m done with this study I’d love to take my findings into an immigrant population and redo it, not for research, but as a humanitarian effort to serve a population new to this country in a setting that we know must be anxiety-producing for all humans, especially young children,” she says.
She is grateful to her professors, her family, and the Friends community. “I can’t imagine working with a better group of parents and children, for embracing this type of research, and teachers who are willing to look at their schedules and make space,” she said. Reflecting on the work of her Upper School research assistants her voice swells with pride. “I look forward to sharing this research with them and I know that as time goes on I’m going to watch these five young people do amazing things.”