Schools to get post-Christmas gift: Emotional awareness coaching

POSTED: 12/21/12 2:22 PM

St. Maarten – Come January, the exhilarating tag team of counselor and awareness coach Myriam Haar and Debbie Zwanikken plan to give public schools a post-Christmas gift that hopefully will last a lifetime for students. The duo want to unlock the “powerful you” in each young person, particularly those who are struggling with their identities, suffer socio-economic neglect, display “delinquent” behavior or are frustrated by the world as they know it.

It is a Herculian task but ladies say that they are up for the challenge and with a bit of wisdom, they will execute a pilot project in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Genevieve de Weever and St. Maarten Vocational Training  schools. It is a private initiative that was birthed by Zwanikken who told Today that she is deeply troubled by the prevailing trend of youth criminality and confusion.

“For years I have been looking around and I observed that something seemed off with our youth. I did some research and came to the conclusion that maybe they do not understand what is going on inside of them. I looked at the school system and it is all left brain. Everything around us is structured so that we can function to make money. But we are more than just that and we are sending kids to school and there is a frustration within our youth. They feel like there is an imbalance and express it ways that can land them in trouble,” Zwanikken said.

They have decided to start the program with the approval of the Ministry of Education, free of cost.

“It has to be done in an environment where peers are learning from each other at the same, where they can talk about their emotions and even explore them without feeling as if something is wrong with them. We need to reach kids at a crucial age of between 10 and 13 but we will not shy away from the older teens either,” Zwanikken said.

Children of all ages are ideal for the project since it emphasizes developing one’s inner strength, finding purpose and embracing values, the women say.

Haar herself went through an awareness program in 2003 and appears to be a breath of fresh air with a new but proven approach to dealing with children. She is also a certified neuro linguistic programming practitioner, a discipline that is aligned with psychology.



“What we are going to do is actually reconnect the children with their own inner self because society is such that you just function in the left brain based on a structured system. We need this because we need to be able to reason and understand things in this planet but we are not human beings made to live in a left brain only.”

The right side of the brain, Haar explained is attached to the intuitive, creative and emotional aspect of a person’s life.

“We have a mission to accomplish and that is to give and share our talents and there are thousands of people out there that are waiting for those children who are going to be the foundation of the world,” she explained.

She believes that it is all about nurturing the gifts that are inside children and not just commending them for academic or scholastic achievements.

“What is inside of you that you were born with, that you don’t have to study for? Once you discover it, you will be excellent at it because it is a natural part of you.  The most successful people are creative people. There are just some things that you don’t have to learn because everyone is born with gifts and talents. But we are not taught that in schools, we are taught skills. We are not taught to explore our inner selves,” Haar said.

“We criticize children and say that they are getting into all sorts of things such as drugs and crime. But what has happened is that they have disconnected from their source, the structure and they have never been told how precious and valuable they are,” she added.

Breathing exercises, meditation, counseling and workbooks such as Jana Ostrom’s “You Are Wonderful, You Are Loved! A Workbook for the Child in All of Us,” will all be utilized during the pilot project.

With the initial approach the women hope that the children will be more settled and get in touch with their feelings. They will also utilize the US based Dovetail Project approach called the “The Toolbox Project.” The acclaimed toolbox is a research based, community-tested, social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that fosters the development of resilience, self-mastery, and empathy in K-6 students and beyond.  Participants in the program say that they experienced the collective and personal impact of using the “12 Tools” on their lives.

“I am not there to make money off of people’s problems; I am there to help them,” Haar stated.


For the elementary students they will receive 30 minutes bi-weekly of emotional awareness coaching while the high school students will be attended to for 45 minutes bi-weekly.

The program will run for the entire school year and the women will also conduct research during the project to document the results on the lives of the project’s participants. However, they believe that in the Vocational School, in particular, will require at least 2 years of emotional awareness coaching before they can properly form an assessment of the progress made.

For the pilot project, the principals of the participating schools were asked to select two groups of 10 children each that are in urgent need of the intervention. It will be a part of the school curriculum and has also gotten the blessings of the care coordinators of the participating schools. It will not be optional for the children that are chosen.

“It is something that could only benefit children. It could only improve their wellbeing and emotional state. Once we are successful in this pilot program, we will recommend that it be implemented in every classroom,” Haar believes.

The ladies have already gotten requests to coach teachers as well so that they can also connect with own feelings.

“The teachers will need to connect with their inner beings first before they can understand what the children are going through.”

While admitting that the endeavor may bring extraordinary and often challenging experiences daily, Haar says that along with Zwanikken, she is fully committed to seeing the project through.  They will utilize their own resources and have already been given the commitment from school personnel that they will be allowed to conduct the sessions unobstructed and with all of the support that is needed.

“Children are like animals; they work on instincts and smell your fear. I am not afraid of children and I know from experience that we have had our experiences so we have to learn to understand them. It is important to talk from the heart to the heart. What we are going to do really does not exist,” Haar says with optimism.

More information on emotional awareness coaching and the pilot project can be found at, 553-1192 (Haar) or 588-4835 (Zwanikken).

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