DOWNTOWN — When Jessica Muroff tells people about her job as director of a nonprofit organization that teaches kids to manage their emotions so those emotions don't manage them, she is typically asked one question: Do you have programs for adults, too?
Clearly the topic of social and emotional intelligence is popular.
Founded in April 2011, Frameworks of Tampa Bay goes to schools and nonprofit groups. It's currently teaching 1,500 young people ages 8 to 18.
On a recent weekday at Booker T. Washington Elementary, 16 third-graders practiced breathing deeply.
The day's lesson was managing stress, and their Frameworks teacher, Dana De Mahop, learned that they had taken standardized tests earlier and would be taking the FCAT soon.
Frameworks teachers try to tie lessons to real life. In the next room, students had come back from recess irritated about a boy who hadn't followed playground rules during a game of tag. That class went over a previous lesson, which was easier for them to apply in theory than practice: Was is okay to be angry at him?
Sure. Emotions aren't good or bad. Feelings are feedback from your body and can be comfortable or uncomfortable. It's what you do with the feeling that can be negative or positive.
Frameworks teaches kids to stop, take a deep breath and think about the whole situation. Then come up with the best solution and go.
Dominic Smith, 10, said it works like this.
"If somebody starts to get on your nerves, you can't hit them," he said. "You have to tell them: Can you please stop? I'm doing some work."
Frameworks also teaches kids to give and accept compliments and to build healthy relationships by considering the golden rule.
The kids in De Mahop's class described how they felt about taking tests. Nervous. Stressed out. Bored. Exhausted.
Identifying feelings is the first of five core skills to emotional learning. Emotions can be nuanced, director Muroff said. "When you're mad, are you really frustrated?"
The second skill is self-management, then social awareness, empathy and responsible decisionmaking.
Muroff, the daughter of teenage parents and first in her family to graduate from college, realized that these skills were essential for her own success.
"If you have a stressful situation at home, does it distract you at work? That's what happens to youth at school when emotions are interrupting their focus," she said. "If they can label emotions, they might choose a more physical expression. These are very fundamental skills that we all need."
Frameworks evolved from the Ophelia Project and Boys Initiative, which started in 2002. It is funded by foundations and donations that totaled $700,000 this fiscal year. Eighty percent of the students served are in low-income families. The lessons are all evidence based and tailored to age groups. Older kids cover topics like building self-esteem and encouraging strong relationships with peers and teachers.
This day's lesson ended with a few relaxation techniques. The children breathed deeply as if they were smelling a flower and exhaled as though they were blowing its petals. They tensed body parts and relaxed them and then they made a string of worry beads, which they took home.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.