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Teachers Who Survived Parkland Shooting Connect During Pandemic With Virtual Meditation

Courtesy of Diana Haneski
River, the Stoneman Douglas therapy dog, and owner Diana Haneski are encouraging reading on the Twitter account: RiversTales.

Sometimes cute, sometimes irritating — it might be a familiar occurrence at this point: A dog barks in the background of a video conference.

In this case, though, it's definitely cute, because the dog is River, a fluffy Bernedoodle who's certified in canine therapy. And her owner is Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's librarian.

"I'm going live, River. Please behave!" Diana Haneski yells lovingly to the pup one morning earlier this spring, the teacher quieting her special pet as she logs on to a Microsoft Teams meeting with her colleagues.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, Haneski was leading morning meditation and mindfulness exercises in her media center. After, she felt the need to maintain that aspect of her routine — for herself and her colleagues.

"Teachers are used to seeing each other every day — in the hallway and during their lunch and during their planning," Haneski said. "And to not have that contact is difficult."

Tuesday marked the end of a school year like no other in Broward County. And while this March's abrupt shift online disrupted all educators' routines, for survivors of the nation's deadliest high school shooting, the pandemic was also a triggering reminder of those traumatic disruptions of more than two years ago.

Meditating together virtually has helped relieve some of that stress.

"Eight o'clock. You can always count on her being there," said Melody Herzfeld, the school's drama teacher whose work helping her students cope with the aftermath of the shooting earned her special recognition from the Tony Awards in 2018.

Herzfeld said she wasn't open to virtual meditation when Haneski first offered. She was overwhelmed with the challenges of translating her classes online.

"I was like, 'Oh, I don't want to do meditation. I just want to figure this out. … I need to know how to get on Zoom. … I need to know how to do my grades,'" Herzfeld said.

"And all I really needed was someone to say, 'Okay, let's just take a minute for ourselves and just center ourselves,'" she said.

"She's been that for us," she said, referring to Haneski.

Read More: School Districts Expect Bumpy Transition To Online Learning - And Warn It Could Last Until Summer

Survivors of the massacre also find solace at Eagles' Haven Wellness Center, which opened last year in hopes of meeting the long-term mental health needs of the Parkland and Coral Springs communities.

"Right from the beginning when everything broke, we got working on putting things virtually," said Rebecca Jarquin, the center's program director.

Now that means a daylong schedule of virtual activities, including meditation, art therapy and exercise classes.

"Through the online format where you can come in virtually, we're still connected," Jarquin said.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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