TSTI teacher, Bloomfield resident publishes book

SOUTH ORANGE / BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bela Barbosa, the social-emotional learning consultant at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, is celebrating a new milestone with the synagogue community: publication of her board book for young children, titled “I Am! Affirmations for Resilience.” The 22-page book, which came out in early October, was published by RISE x Penguin Workshop, a new line of board books and early picture books for children up to age 5. The illustrator is Edel Rodriguez.

Geared to toddlers and preschoolers, “I Am! Affirmations for Resilience” features 10 emotions that children commonly experience, with a centering exercise and positive affirmation to be recited as a practice in mindfulness. It is, in Barbosa’s words, “a social-emotional toolkit that can be read at any time to build self-esteem, confidence and the ability to adapt to stress or change. When children are having a hard time with their feelings, they can open to the relevant page, do grounding or breathing exercises, and read the affirmation aloud. By addressing their emotions in this way, this helps them access their inner strength, and instills self-confidence and empowerment.”

The RISE imprint was created by publishing director Cecily Kaiser, whose child was in one of Barbosa’s classes at TSTI; Kaiser approached Barbosa about putting her social-emotional learning expertise into book form. According to its website, RISE features titles that share “the common thread of empowering children to feel smart, capable, safe and important. It is upon this foundation that children are then able to develop empathy, resilience and compassion — an infusion of which our society so desperately needs.”

“My hope is to change the children’s narrative to ‘I can do it, I am great, I am amazing.’ I believe if we encourage children to think positively from a young age, they will be happier grownups, more confident and more resilient. I want to empower youngsters through these little love notes,” Barbosa said.

The Bloomfield resident began teaching in TSTI’s Iris Family Center for Early Childhood Education in 2011; she became the preschool’s social-emotional learning consultant last fall after completing the intensive Breathe for Change program. She leads various practices for youngsters to help them cope with stressful situations, resolve conflicts and learn how to be present to what’s happening in their environment. She returned to classroom teaching this year; she has created a classroom affirmation wall on which her 3-year-old students post affirmations from the book as well as their own originals. She also runs TSTI’s summer camp program.

“Over the years, Bela’s mindfulness practice with the children has helped them self-regulate and self-soothe, allowing them to understand their feelings and control their impulsive reactions,” said Carol Paster, TSTI’s early childhood director. “Although her book appears to be for young children, everyone, no matter the age, can benefit from its teachings.”