We are energetic and passionate girls who are on a mission to make a difference in our school and community by bringing programs and projects that promote peace, mindfulness, compassion, empathy and social justice to our campus. We want to be able to manage the stress of being a student in a dual mission (arts and academics) school while managing the life of being a teenager and making our school community a better place to be by giving people tools and information to manage stress better.
Grand Arts is unique in several ways that provide both opportunity and challenge for our students. Being in a dual mission school, students are exposed to both a rigorous academic curriculum and a full array of art classes. Student have 8 classes at Grand Arts, whereas students on traditional high school campuses have 6. For the first 2 years of our GBLA project, we focused on providing students with tools to manage the stress of being in a dual mission school and being a teen in general. Adolescents have a unique sensitivity to stress since their brain development is marked by significant changes that make it vulnerable to permanent stress-related alterations. There is much research and data that show that mindfulness in schools can help students to manage stress, improve academic performance, and create healthier relationships. We learned that thanks to neuroplasticity; our brain is capable of changing. Through teaching mindfulness practices, we give people the tools to recognize and manage stress in ways that can help them now and in the future. MRI imaging has shown that when mindfulness is practiced, there is an increased concentration of grey matter in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, perspective taking, regulating emotions, and executive function.
Our decision to add DACA/immigration to our focus this year is tied to our location, demographics and recent political events. Our school is in the Belmont Zone of Choice, which is an LAUSD zone comprised of predominantly working class Latino neighborhoods. Our student population hails from all over the city of Los Angeles, but primarily from East Los Angeles, the Pico Union area, Koreatown, Echo Park and South LA. Some of our students are undocumented immigrants and almost all of our students and staff know someone who is an undocumented immigrant. Our immigrant population is particularly vulnerable to stress this year given the political climate and the repeal of DACA. The uncertainty and the lack of pathways to legalization available to immigrants is a big issue for our community and we feel the need to address this social justice issue in addition to providing mindfulness strategies for stress reduction. Due to recent actions and speeches by the current administration, many of these communities are fearful of the uncertainty of their legal status in this country. This fear has made it into our school. When something affects the neighborhood, we feel it as a school community.
Our project this year is a hybrid as it falls under Health and Wellness since it targets the physical, emotional and mental health of our students and also under Community Engagement as we address the immigration issue as well. Mental health is important for our success in school and the in future. This impact area is important to us because we know that many of our students have experienced trauma and stress in their past and others are dealing with societal challenges and concerns about their future. We believe it is important to manage our stress and mental health but also work toward social justice and look at the way our policies also create stress for others.
This two pronged focus is supported by data we collected each year. Year one we conducted surveys in our advisory classes to see what areas students feel they need more information and support. The areas of stress, relaxation, depression, and career readiness were the highest. After our project last year, we gave evaluations asking what students would like more of and they wanted to know more about stress management, mindfulness, and relaxation strategies. This year we surveyed the classes to see whether the repeal of DACA was really an issue for our students. The survey results can be seen under the Our Projects/Know your Rights tab.
Since 20 of our girls were new to the team, our first task of the year was team building. We had a team retreat and our goal was to get to know each other and lay out our projects for the year. We had ice breakers and did team building exercises and mindfulness activities. We ate together, did Qi Gong, and had guest speakers from K-9 connection who talked with us about self esteem and beauty. We broke into groups and started working on our Project Planning sheets. We discussed a number of activities that we wanted to do to bring more peace, stress reduction, and mindfulness education to our school. Our team identified immigration issues as a major area of stress but we needed data to verify this need. Therefore, we designed a survey and administered it to all homeroom classes and found that 38% of our student body are affected by DACA and have serious concerns for peers and a need for more information about the future of themselves, their families and their friends. Even students who aren't directly affected, shared concerns for peers and a need for more information to better understand what is being proposed by our government and what the ramifications might be. We discussed changing our impact area to Civic Engagement but realized that the need for Mindfulness to manage stress hasn't gone away, if anything, it is now even greater so we decided to keep the Health and Wellness impact area create a two pronged project that provides support and resources to students in our school and community about mindfulness and wellness and also addresses a specific issue (DACA). By the end of the day, we narrowed it down to 6 activities that we felt would support our mission. The first 3 (continued from years 1 and 2) are the main events.
1.The flagship Mindfulness Fair
2. Classroom presentations on mindfulness for all Freshman Seminar classes
3. Lunch activities
Because we already have the structures in place for these 3 activities and since we added more girls to our team and have more "girlpower" , we felt that we could handle 3 new projects that we believe will support our mission to help our student body to handle stress and create a more peaceful environment. We realized that the uncertainty and fear about what is happening in the political arena is also a source of stress. Some of this stress can be lessoned by bringing more information and legal support to students, and their families. Working with animals can also help relieve stress so we brought in the K-9 Connection program. We were asked to participate in Dia De Los Muertos so we agreed to create alter dedicated to women in history and people in our lives (and pets) who have inspired us to be our best help others and be change agents. Participating in this event also served to promote our GBLA team and let others know about our projects for the year.
4. Know your Rights Event
5. K-9 Connection
6. GBLA participation in Dia de Los Muertos.
See planners for each event under Our Projects tab
We have a very ambitious year planned. The plans and progress of all our activities can be seen under the "Our Projects" tab. We expect our project to have both short term and long term effects in our school community. In the short term, each mindfulness activity provided is an opportunity for students to relieve their stress in the moment and experience the peace that being in the moment brings. In the long run, we believe that students will be given tools to help them regulate their emotions and manage stressful situations. This can really change their lives in high school, college, and beyond. We also think it will change the culture of our school. Students who are less stressed do better academically and treat each other better. Also, teachers who are present for the classroom presentations each year are exposed to mindfulness tools which they can use in their own lives, influencing other children in their lives and future students.
Since we started our Mindfulness Project 2 years ago, we have seen an increase in people talking about and understanding mindfulness and engaging in mindfulness activities and practices. Last year we targeted all of the 9th graders for the classroom interventions so this year most of our 10th graders have had exposure to these tools. If we continue to do this each year, in 3 years our entire student body will know what mindfulness is and know how to recognize and manage their stress. Our parents, staff, students and administration have expressed their appreciation and support for out work and we know that we are having a direct impact at our school an in our community. We believe including a "Know Your Rights" event will further help student and families with managing the stress of uncertainty that they are facing. Our community will be positively affected by our project and will feel supported through the distribution of information and the use of mindfulness techniques to help students process the changes to legislation. It will allow our community members to see the school as a safe space for children and families. Our school will benefit from our project because it will unite our students and increase tolerance and empathy among them. We know that when the community feels that the school is in partnership with it, the community is more likely to feel welcomed on the campus and more likely to show support to the school. Research supports the fact that a loving and supportive environment yields greater academic success. This project with it's varied activities will help create an environment that shows our most vulnerable students that we support ,them.
● Know Your Rights Event
● Lunch Activities
Stress Ball Making - $125
● GBLA Meetings
snacks, water, pizza $300.
supplies - $125
● Mindfulness Fair
Raffle Prizes for Mindfulness Fair - $50
Puppies - $400.
● Classroom Presentations
Cuties - $50.
● Operating/Administrative expenses
TOTAL ~ 1200.
During our retreat many members of the team were newly introduced to mindfulness. It is challenging to work with this many students who are high achievers and involved in other clubs and committees and get everyone together for planning and training. On the other hand, having more team members could allow us to do more for our school. Even though we are all busy and pulled in many directions, no one wanted to drop any part of the project but it is a challenge getting people to meetings. We realized also that we needed to break into smaller groups in order to get more done and have more accountability. The GBLA team from last year left us with some advice and lessons learned that we will continue to reflect on as we work on our project this year.
We hope that there will be a GBLA team again next year and just like we built on the work of the team before us, they will continue the work that we have done this year and take it to the next level. For the prospective generations of VAPA Girls Build LA teams, we offer our lessons learned:
1. Make sure all food vendors are cleared by risk management ahead of time (45 days at least)
2. Reach out to resources like the school’s parent center for additional assistance
3. Don't under any circumstance make the fair date so close to the project submission date (this is no joke!)
4. Make sure you all stay focused, a little-bit audacious, a lot-a-bit creative, and intensely inspired throughout this challenge.
5. The relationships built and overall feeling of satisfaction in having a positive impact on your community is worth all of the work.