One way that Integrate for Good works with the communities we serve is through our Empowerment Lab program. Empowerment Lab is designed based on the doctoral research of IFG’s founder and executive director, which demonstrated that individuals who are connected to their communities are more likely to be employed, more likely to have better mental and physical health, and have a better quality of life. Empowerment Lab consists of a series of workshops where students and adults learn about strategies for self-advocacy, learn to identify areas of interest, build self-efficacy, and ultimately create a digital portfolio that they can use as a tool for self-advocacy to gain employment or a volunteer position.

Empowerment Lab was designed to be in a format of three half-day long workshops. However, due to COVID-19, IFG has had to adjust and transform the curriculum to an online format. This means Empowerment Lab participants have to be on Zoom for a long time at the beginning of the day. Sitting on Zoom for long periods of time is difficult for anybody! Many people find it helpful to get up and move around in order to take a break and re-energize. For this reason, IFG has incorporated something called a movement break into Empowerment Lab sessions. A movement break is a quick break that involves very light physical activity. Research continues to show a variety of evidence for the benefits of breaks for students.

Breaks do not have to include movement to be beneficial. A study by Immordino-Yang et al. (2012) showed that any time we take any type of break or any time that the brain is resting, the brain is still processing information. Their research showed that the brain’s rest mode is essential for “consolidating memories, reflecting on past experiences, and planning for the future (…) breaks play a key role in cognitive abilities such as reading comprehension and divergent thinking” (Terada, 2018). Breaks, in particular movement breaks, have also been shown to decrease behavior considered “disruptive” in school students (Terada, 2018).

Breaks are also beneficial in areas other than cognitive abilities. Movement breaks that focus more on physical activity could improve the brain’s oxygen levels which in turn improves the activity in neurons and growth of cells in the hippocampus, “the center of learning and memory,” (Terada, 2018). Movement breaks such as recess can also serve as opportunities for students to improve social and play skills. Benefits to allowing breaks that incorporate play for younger students include learning “how to take turns, resolve conflicts, and solve problems. They also learn how to manage their own emotions and behavior,” (Terada, 2018).

Breaks can improve different aspects of functioning and skills. Because of the brain’s ability to still process information even while resting or not being consciously stimulated, any type of break, whether it be movement or unstructured, should be incorporated into lessons or between long periods of focus.

-Bayley Saffier, MSW