UNION, NJ –Nikki Gangemi remembers all too well her middle and high school years. She remembers being bullied, excluded and picked on. She says these experiences impacted her life well into her 30s.
“I had a rough time in school,” said Gangemi, 39, who is now a Franklin School kindergarten teacher. “Like a lot of kids, I didn’t really know how to deal with it.”
“My Gracie”, a book by Gangemi set to be published later this month, addresses some of those issues and teaches kids how to manage their emotions.
“My Gracie” tells the story of a shy, young girl who has a hard time fitting in and making friends in school. Having low self-esteem, Gracie finds herself being excluded in regular school activities.
One day while walking home from school, Gracie, a fourth grader, stops at the park where she encounters an elephant. She sits with the animal and goes on a mindful journey where she finds peace and happiness. The next day, Gracie goes to school “standing a little taller” with a new mindset that she is good enough as is and that happiness is found inside of you.
“I’m trying to teach kids to understand their worth,” says Gangemi. “Being isolated or bullied does not define them.” Gangemi says kids are often taught to look at the negative – what’s wrong – instead of what’s right.
In her classroom, Gangemi shows her young students how to manage their emotions, how to deal with stress and anxiety and how to solve conflicts in peaceful ways. Her students practice gratitude (what things am I grateful for) and set intensions for the day (what kind of day do I want to have). “This keeps the focus on what the children want for themselves, so they can visualize their goals,” said Gangemi.
“We have all these emotions,” said Gangemi. “We often get upset with others. Many times, we don’t know how to manage these emotions so we end up talking badly about the person we’re angry with.” Gangemi says she teaches her students to understand their emotions, how to deal with them, and how to communicate feelings appropriately.
Gangemi grew up in Union, where her parents still live. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Kean University. Gangemi has taught in the Union schools since 2005 to second, third and kindergarten classes. She currently lives in Hazlet.
“My Gracie” is available on Amazon.com. Gangemi’s website, Mindful Matters, is at https://mindfulmattersliving.com.
Editor's Note: Information updated to indicate that "My Gracie" is now available on Amazon.com.