Mindful Moments with Buck Roggeman The COVID-19 Chronicles: Forest Grove principal shares inner peace and relaxation

Buck Roggeman, Principal of Forest Grove Elementary in Pacific Grove | Screenshot

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur

By Aparna Sreenivasan 

Take a moment to share a Mindful Moment with Buck Roggeman. His students in Pacific Grove have been hearing his inspirational messages for five years, and now he’s been sharing bits of wisdom online for all to hear since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the campus.

Once a successful football coach at Pacific Grove High School, Roggeman is the principal at Forest Grove Elementary School who shares inner peace and relaxation exercises with students like a Zen master. Or like Mr. Rogers in a football coach’s body.

Five years ago, Forest Grove was in a bind. In the course of the previous five years, there had been three interim principals. So, when the district asked Roggeman to move there from his position as the principal at Pacific Grove Middle School, he saw an opportunity to act as a stable presence. “I live on Forest Avenue and we won’t be going anywhere,” Roggeman said.

He said he knew he could provide Forest Grove with long-term leadership and support for students, staff and what he calls “the Forest Grove family.”

Timothy James Roggeman — he still goes by his childhood nickname of Buck —  was an English major at Stanford in the late 1980s. His passion for writing led him to the University of Southern California, where he obtained a master’s degree in print journalism, and then to his first position interning with the Monterey County Herald. He was offered a full time reporter’s job after his internship, and worked there more than two years.  While writing is a passion — he is currently writing a book about his father’s life — Roggeman felt he could do more: He could serve the community and he could make a difference if he moved to education.

Roggeman, 53, said service to community was one of the core values his father instilled in him. His family was “rooted in education,” he said. His father was a high school and college football coach and his mother was a secretary for the principal at Washington High School in South Bend, Ind., where they met.

“My mom was a great leader for our family, she served our family,” Roggeman says. “My dad was a great leader (as well), and his service mindset shaped our family.”

Roggeman set about making changes at Forest Grove soon after he set foot on campus — from the beautification of the grounds, to interacting and supporting the teachers, staff and students, and implementing ways for students to deal with the many stresses that they encounter in their lives, from which his “Mindful Moment” messages sprang. Little did he know that this tool would become instrumental in dealing with a global pandemic.

Webster’s Dictionary defines mindful moments as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

When Roggeman began his tenure at Forest Grove, he learned from the teachers that students were having trouble with focus after the lunchtime break. “It was a challenge to balance the children … and get them in a frame of mind where they were ready to learn,” he said.

His solution was to meet with the kids at the end of lunch recess and have them breathe, calm them down and provide a message at the end of the day so that when they got back into line, they were more ready to learn.

When the pandemic hit and schools were closed, Roggeman began recording his Mindful Moments and posting them each school day on YouTube. On Tuesday he posted two videos — a Mindful Moment, and a Toolbox Tuesday, where he discussed one of 12 tools children (and parents) can use to help navigate through situations in their daily lives.

The dozen tools he emphasizes include breathing, quiet safe place, listening, empathy, personal space; using our words, garbage can, taking time, please and thank you, apology and forgiveness, patience and courage. The toolbox originated from Dovetail Learning, a nonprofit wellness organization.

Each week, Roggeman discusses a tool and uses it in many of his Mindful Moment discussions (his own original idea). The video clips are short, five minutes or less, to maintain the focus of his target audience, students from transitional kindergarten, known as TK, to fifth  grade.

Comments on his Facebook page show that parents also are benefitting from his daily messages.

Roggeman said his work and his ethics come from his close-knit family. His definition of a leader is one who is authentic, sincere, and has the mindset of putting others before themselves. True leaders lead by example. He isn’t afraid to talk about his own struggles. In one of his Mindful Moments he discusses the difficulty of having a stutter as a child and how he worked through that issue. In another he talks about how he understands that children are missing school, their teachers and their friends.

“Being the principal of a TK-5 school I get the experience of living life through the eyes of people as young as 4 and old as 11,” Roggeman said, adding that he has learned that “the things I didn’t always like about myself were what actually made me unique.”

I have been watching Roggeman’s Mindful Moments since he started sharing them online. And I have to wonder: If all of our leaders took five minutes a day to interact with their communities, would the world be different?

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About Aparna Sreenivasan

Aparna Sreenivasan is an Associate Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology at California State University Monterey Bay, and a science writer. She lives in Pacific Grove with her husband and two children.