Yesterday, in the midst of teaching mindfulness to 900 Preble students as part of the high school’s first-ever Wellness Fair, I had an "aha" moment:
It’s really, REALLY hard to teach mindfulness to a gym full of high school students.
You may think I am joking, but I am actually quite serious. Students in our schools are genuinely overwhelmed with all the different pressures of their very full lives. Add to that the daily task of simply growing into bodies, minds and maturity and it’s challenging to think that one mindfulness class could make a difference.
Can one program ever make a difference?
I am not going to lie - it was a challenge to teach 8 groups of students (some groups as large as 120 students) how to breath and relax in 25 minutes. And, watching the information make its bumpy landing on this group made up of different ages, family backgrounds and even countries of origin, it could be tempting to walk away feeling like this effort was just a tiny drop in an overwhelmingly huge bucket.
But it didn’t. And here’s why.
After leaving Preble, I hopped in my car to travel to Keller Elementary on Green Bay’s west side where Principal Dan Malmberg has invited his staff to engage in capacity-building around self-care. Over the course of six weeks, these teachers and support staff are learning how to relax and take care of themselves with gentle yoga, breathing and meditation techniques. Our class focuses on helping them reconnect with relaxation as well as their vocation. Three groups within GBAPS have taken this capacity-building class: social workers and student services, Washington Middle School and now Keller. Two more feeder elementary schools to Washington, Howe and Sullivan, are on deck. No two of these entities will have a mindfulness program that’s a carbon copy of the other - but each will have a shared language, similar tracking tools and common vision of using mindfulness in their classrooms.
At times Wello struggles to explain how we do our work. How can just three people make the kind of difference claim we can? The answer to that question is in our strategic approach. Rather than offering one-size fits all programs, we focus on policy, systems and environmental change. We found ourselves at Preble because the high school social workers Kelly Rowe and Brittany Bartel had participated in capacity-building and wanted to introduce these concepts school-wide. That capacity building class was a result of Wello’s early decision to work with Green Bay Area School District’s central office rather than scatter-shot programs on a school-by-school basis.
Kelly, Brittany and I laughed together, as the day wore on at Preble, wondering how much impact our efforts were having. At the end of the day, we realized that the impact was actually remarkably big. The concepts of stress reduction, mindfulness tools like breathing and stretching, and an experience of practice are now part of the students’ common understanding. As Kelly and Brittany continue to integrate the concepts through their daily work, we see the beginning of a true culture shift.
Leaving Preble, I didn’t feel like a drop in a bucket, I felt like a building block in Wello’s vision of prioritizing well-being in Greater Green Bay.