Graduate Interviews – Mindfulness in a Continuation High School

As a Clinical Social Worker in Los Angeles schools with a 40-year personal mindfulness practice, Helen knew that the students in the continuation high school she worked at would benefit from learning mindfulness. Luckily for Helen, the principal had already been introduced to the concept of mindfulness through a class offered through her Catholic church. So the principal agreed that the school could benefit from learning some techniques in focus, attention and especially stress-reduction for both students and teachers.

With the principal’s support, Helen spoke with one of the teachers at the school who felt like he needed all the support he could get in his classroom. The teacher agreed to have Helen teach a short mindfulness program in his class.

While she was a long time mindfulness practitioner, Helen wanted guidance on how to teach mindfulness and use a pre-established curriculum before going into the classroom.

After taking the in-person Mindful Schools Curriculum Training course, Helen was excited to start teaching mindfulness right away.
“For young people who’ve experienced trauma and disruption, I understand that

quieting their minds and bodies can be
a really uncomfortable experience.”

Sensitive to the teacher’s time constraints, Helen chose to stick with the light structure that Mindful Schools suggests: 15-minute lessons twice a week over 8 weeks.

The school’s demographic was mostly African American and Latino males from low-income backgrounds—some freshly out of imprisonment due to gang-related offenses. “My students did not have a reference for mindfulness,” Helen shared when speaking about how the program was initially received. “So when I first came in, there was a lot of rolling eyes and heads on the desks. I’ve seen Room to Breathe and there was a similar sort of lack of respect in the beginning.”

“The first 4 weeks, there was a real sort of discomfort with it. These are kids who have had a lot of disruption, violence and suffering in their lives. For young people who’ve experienced trauma and disruption, I understand that quieting their minds and bodies can be a really uncomfortable experience.”
However, after the 6-week mark, when the curriculum starts to delve into mindfulness of emotions, Helen noticed a shift in the room. “There seemed to be a progress of really moving towards that space where everyone was connected to the practice.”Helen’s trust in mindfulness (drawn from her own experience) allowed her to be patient with the students who continued to struggle. She accepted that some students just might not respond to mindfulness right away, or perhaps it would just take them some time to unlearn old thought patterns and habits.To Helen’s delight, she noticed mindfulness resonating powerfully with some of her students. “There was one young man who was 16 years old and a football player. At first, he just wasn’t going to have it. He kept getting up out of his chair and being disruptive. The teacher told him, ‘If this is uncomfortable to you, you can go into another room.’ Because it was ultimately the teacher’s room, I let that happen, but I wanted to check in with him personally. Since I am the school therapist, I did a one-on-one session with him. I just wanted to get to know him so he felt comfortable with me. After that, he stayed in the class and participated during the mindfulness lessons and then kept seeing me to talk thereafter. He really opened up to me and the mindfulness practice. He could finally see the benefit and make it real for himself.”

“He could finally see the benefit and make it real for himself.”
The teacher enjoyed the program and saw an emotional shift in his classroom, asking Helen to repeat the program with the same students because he didn’t want to lose the momentum gained. Helen shared, “the teacher is one of the best students in the class! He sits down and participates as a student. He’s getting a lot out of but recognized that he didn’t feel ready to teach it himself until he got more practice.”
“After teaching one full 8-week session and coming back in to teach more, I’ve gotten 100% positive response from the students!” Helen enthusiastically stated in closing. “The principal said that just me being there on campus helped the whole school environment in a positive way.” Helen will continue teaching at this school and hopes to bring the Mindful Schools Curriculum to the other schools she works with.
*In the interest of protecting the identity of her students, Helen is a pseudonym.