The Colonial School District Teacher of the Year will never forget his first review on the job.
“I got the worst administrative evaluation you could possibly get,” said Khayree Bey, “because they didn’t understand what I was doing.”
Two years later, he was named the 2019 Delaware Health Teacher of the Year.
This year Bey not only is representing his school district as teacher of the year, but also won Bethany Hall-Long’s Lieutenant Governor’s Challenge, which recognizes businesses, individuals, schools and other local organizations for actively benefiting the health of their communities.
The six other winners of the challenge were the Delaware Department of Correction, Polytech School District, Delaware Council on Farm and Food Policy, ChristianaCare Project Connect, Compassionate Schools Team from Academia Antonia Alonso, and Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.
Bey won for incorporating mindfulness into his classes and also for teaching other teachers how to do the same thing.
He teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade health at McCullough Middle School near Wilmington, not far from his historic Delaware City home.
Bey calls his mindfulness teaching program his “equity-based trauma-informed mindfulness health program.”
What that means is that Bey tries to help students who have been through traumatic experiences such as abuse, poverty, severe illness or deaths in the home find ways to cope with the toxic stress that caused by those adverse childhood experiences succeed in school and in life.
“I ACE tested our whole school three years ago and we test the incoming sixth grade students every year,” Bey said. “A score higher than 3 usually means the child has trauma that can affect their health.”
Students from the area often come from impoverished areas, high crime areas and homes of domestic violence.
“We’re not a private school, so we don’t get what they get,” Bey said. “We get the students that the area gives us.”
Mindfulness basically is helping someone focus on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting and even learning to control feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
Part of his mindfulness training focuses on breathing techniques and self-regulation.
“I teach the students how to see their triggers and how to use breathing to respond to those triggers and control themselves,” he said. “Then, I teach them the neuroscience behind the breathing.”
While mindfulness and helping children find ways to overcome toxic experiences has been a mainstream concern for about a decade as school, doctors and institutions who deal with the damage try to help children have healthier lives all around.
Bey began his journey of mindfulness teaching decades before he walked into a classroom as a teacher.
While stationed in Okinawa, Japan serving as a U.S. Marine, he learned many of the breathing techniques that he teaches today from his then-girlfriend’s grandmother.
He had joined the Marines at 18, partly to get out of the bad area in which he grew up. He stayed in from 1990 to 1994.
By 2013 Bey completed his masters degree in education at Wilmington University, with an undergraduate degree in behavioral science.
He had been inspired by his wife, who was a teacher, to follow her into the career, as well as an incident occurred when his wife asked him to visit her class to talk about black history. One of the students repeated something he said to another teacher, who told the student, “He doesn’t have a college degree. Don’t listen to him.”
As part of his mindfulness classes, he also teaches the students yoga.
“It’s hard for some of these kids to connect to yoga,” Bey said. “When they see depictions of an Indian guy floating in the air or a white woman teaching a yoga class, they can’t see themselves in it.”
He was inspired to put together a mindfulness program when he noticed schools had been failing at.
“What I noticed was that we weren’t meeting children where they were at. If you weren’t a smart kid you were left out, you were in the back of the classroom,” Bey said.
Bey is involved with kids beyond the classroom and mindfulness lessons.
Outside of teaching health and mindfulness, Bey runs the school planetarium, DJs school dances and coaches field hockey, wrestling and softball.
“The students that I teach don’t normally play those sports, and to be completely honest I’m a horrible field hockey coach,” Bey said. “I do it because some of my students that don’t play come and hang out after school, and that great, as long as they’re not out on the street.”
Bey was careful about how he presented his idea about a mindfulness program.
“Mindfulness is secular, removed from religion and taken to neuroscience,” he said. “I’m not here to push an agenda. I’m here to teach your kid how to make better decisions.”
He believes that the idea wouldn’t have been accepted 10 years ago but because of all the medical and academic talk about how toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences affect a developing brain, it’s become widely accepted and used.
“If the results weren’t what they were,” Bey said. “They would never let any of this fly.”
The school has seen fewer suspensions and fewer children being asked to leave a classroom because of unacceptable behavior, he said.
Bey feels lucky he’s had a lot of support from his school and his district and is allowed to share the program with other teachers.
“My school is big on professional development, so I get to do a lot of the training,” he said.
Educators are always students first, he said.
“I’m always looking for new ideas and collaborating with teachers around the country,” he said.
Bey said he was honored, humbled and slightly embarrassed about being named the district’s teacher of the year and also winning the Lieutenant Governor’s Challenge.
“It makes me feel like what I’m doing is right,” Bey said. “I also felt a little bit embarrassed; I didn’t know if it was appropriate to celebrate during a pandemic.”
As for the pandemic itself, he hopes his class didn’t suffer from the sudden switch to an online format. He devoted a lot of time to learn technologies and programs to help, even starting his own YouTube channel where he posts mindful minutes videos.
“The pandemic didn’t break my stride at all,” Bey said.