We are energetic and passionate girls who are determined to reduce stress and bring more peace to our school through teaching mindfulness. 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 a teenager. We also want to raise awareness of mental health issues for teens and we want to help ourselves and others to have good mental health.
Stress is common to all living creatures. 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. The onset of many major physical and mental illnesses – like anxiety, depression, addictions, eating disorders, and so on – often occur in adolescence. Adolescence is a vulnerable time for the onset of mental illness: 75% of mental disorders begin before the age of 24, and half by age 15. By promoting good mental health and intervening early, particularly in the crucial childhood and teenage years, we can help to prevent mental illness from developing and mitigate its effects when it does (Department of Health, 2011).
On a positive note, this period is also potentially receptive to interventions that support healthy development. 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. 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. Through teaching mindfulness practices. we gave people the tools to recognize and manage stress in ways that can help them now and in the future.
Our project falls under Health and Wellness since our project targets the physical, emotional and mental health of our students. This mental health is important for our success in school and in our 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 conducted surveys in our advisory classes to see what areas students feel they need more information and support in. 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. We decided to focus our attention this year on the 9th grade class as the transition to 9th grade is a difficult one. Between 8th and 9th grade truancy rises about 10 %.
(LAUSD Data, March 2016)
Since 9 of our girls were new to the team, our first task of the year was team building. We had a team retreat with our coordinator, Ms. Travnitz, and her MSW interns. Our goal was to get to know each other and lay out our project for the year. We did team building and mindfulness activities, ate together, did yoga, and had a lot of laughs. By the end of the day, we clarified our mission and we were prepared to do the classroom presentations. Our project was year long and built on the base that the GBLA team from last year created for us. We continued with monthly lunch activities, which included mandala coloring and stress ball making. This year we also hosted a feeling wall activity following the Presidential election, a poetry workshop and a goo-making activity which were all well received. Mindfulness presentations were given to all 10 of the Freshman Seminar classes in the Spring, resulting in all of our 9th graders being exposed to mindfulness practices and receiving tools for stress reduction. Although the GBLA team last year had a great powerpoint presentation, we decided to use Prezi this year. We felt that Prezi would capture the students' attention more. We also updated our data and embedded some cool videos. Check out our Mindfulness Prezi under the classroom presentation tab under Our Journey. Another change we made this year was we used Cuties for the mindful eating exercise. It was suggested that fruit would be more congruent with our focus on health and wellness than candy was and we agreed that that made more sense. We were initially concerned about the price of 350 mandarin oranges but we were able to get a good deal from one of our parents who works in the produce market! In each class, prior to the presentation, we gave pretests to assess the students' base knowledge of mindfulness and survey their top concerns. We also gave evaluations after each presentation. Following the presentations, we went back into the classrooms to share the survey results with the classes and give them tips, resources and strategies to address their top concerns. Finally, we produced a school-wide Mindfulness and Wellness Fair. This event was such a big success last year that the school asked us to do it annually! Initially the fair was scheduled for March 30, 2017. We made our posters, and confirmed our participants when, unfortunately, due to a conflict with another school event, our date was changed at the last minute and rescheduled to April 20, the day before our report was due! Fortunately, the majority of our participants were able to accommodate this change. It did however provide a major challenge to documenting the process, updating our website and social media, completing our team video and submitting our project the next day. Which in turn gave us a perfect opportunity to put all of our stress management tools to use. The fair this year was again a huge success; the most popular attraction being the puppies that students were able to hold, cuddle and play with.
A major addition to our project this year was the media campaign. We created and used our website to document our mindfulness journey. This allowed us to reach more people to give them the resources that we think are very helpful in managing stress. Using social media we implemented Mindful Mondays all year long. Every Monday we posted a new activity, quote, strategy, video, or breathing technique on our website and Instagram @namastecalm. We worked as a team to manage our website, social media campaign and our school-wide activities in order to successfully complete our ambitious mission!
We had a very busy and productive year. All of our activities can be seen under the "Our Journey" tab of our weebly. We executed all of the activities we planned and even some that we didn't initially expect to do, such as the feeling wall (see the pics under Our Journey/activities). We felt stress levels rise after the election as students were staging walk outs and we wanted to provide a forum for people to express their thoughts and feelings. From students to staff and parents, we have received positive feedback about our work this year. We were able to make 10 classroom presentations to provide 322 ninth grade students with information about Mindfulness through the Prezi that we created. It was so well received, that every class we went into has asked us to come back again! We have returned to 3 classrooms already. 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 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 have been 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 were in the presentations were exposed to the mindfulness tools which they can now use in their everyday lives, influencing other children in their lives and future students.
We conducted a pre-presentation survey with the students and asked them to complete an evaluation after each of our mindfulness presentations. Both the survey and evaluation can be seen under the Our Journey/classroom presentation tab. The survey asks students 3 things: What is Mindfulness? 2. What do you think are the 3 biggest concerns among our students? (followed by a list of concerns) and 3. List 3 negative effects of stress. The results for each class are displayed under the classroom presentation tab. In one of the classes, students added sleep deprivation as a concern and we would definitely add that to our survey if we were to do it again next year. We will use this data as well as the evaluations to plan future projects for the students. We will bring the evaluations to the Expo on May 13th for people to see that the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative. The fact that for every class, stress was by far the highest concern, validated the need for our project. We have now started going back to each class to give them the results of their surveys and address the top three concerns for that particular class. For example, for Ms. Bayou Young's class, the top 3 concerns were stress, self-esteem and social media. When we went in to the class again, we asked them how social media was a concern for them. The shared that many students are addicted to social media which takes up much of their time and becomes a priority over other things that they should be doing. They said they feel compelled to constantly be checking their phones. We asked if they thought there was a connection between social media and self esteem. They said, "definitely". They reported that they see all of the beautiful pictures and feel that they can't measure up. They also said that whether someone "likes" a photo or not can make or break their day. As they reflected further, they noted that people tend to say negative things about others on social media that they wouldn't say to their faces. The GBLA team also facilitated a discussion about ways to manage time and resist social media. Suggestions of apps like Forrest and Focus Now were well received by the students. YOu
The mindfulness fair was another success. Last year our fair poster promised puppies and we were not able to get them due to the LAUSD restrictions and requirements. This year we started from the beginning of the year getting the documents that we needed and securing the reservation. We had 201puppy petting permission slips turned in ahead of time and more at the fair with parents giving consent on the spot. The line was continuous for the duration of the fair. The puppies were rock stars! We also worked with a parent at our school who helped with getting more community agencies to come to the fair. We targeted agencies that would go with our Mindfulness and Wellness theme. One of the stressors for our families is the immigration issue and we had an immigration lawyer come to talk with families to give them information and hopefully relieve some stress by knowing their rights. For a complete list of fair participants, click on the Mindfulness Fair tab under Our Journey. There you will also find pictures of the fair including clubs, vendors, food truck, raffle prizes and of course, PUPPIES! We provided several ways to get raffle tickets: got to booths and get a card stamped and return it for a ticket, make a comment about our fair on our website and get a ticket, buy a ticket for $1. This way anyone could get a ticket and have a chance to win a prize, without purchasing anything. All of the comments we received from participants was very positive both the day of the fair and the following day. Students and staff members came up to us in class and on campus thanking us for hosting the event and saying they are already looking forward to it next year. We noticed that the ninth graders were especially visible, possibly because we had gone to all of their classes at least once which increased their awareness of and interest in the event.
Finally, we utilized our website and social media platforms to increase our ability to reach more people with our mindfulness practices. We hoped that knowing that we would post something each Monday would encourage people to check it out once a week to see what was new. To get our website and instgram info out to people we made business cards and passed them out during our classroom presentations and at lunch activity tables. We shared them with friends and family. On the back, we put suggestions for coping with stress. To date, we have 245 followers on instagram. Our Mindful Monday posts are under the Our Journey tab and also on instagram. The front and back of our cards are also under the Mindful Monday tab.
● Contracted project services
Weebly Upgrade $98.
● Lunch Activities
Stress Ball Making - $125.
Goo Making - $50.
Mandala Coloring/Poetry/Feeling Wall - $20
● GBLA Meetings
snacks, water, pizza $175.
supplies - $117
Room to Breathe video - $58
● Mindfulness Fair
Raffle Prizes for Mindfulness Fair - $50
Puppies - $400.
Paper and Ink for Mandalas - $50
Misc. supplies and thank you gifts - $107
● Classroom Presentations
Cuties - $50.
● Operating/Administrative expenses
Fair posters, Business Cards, Banner - $200
TOTAL ~ 1500.
Our team started the year off with 1 member remaining after 7 of the members from last year's GBLA team graduated. We added 9 new members and began thinking about our project. We had to determine what to build on from last year's GBLA team project and what to let go of or change. We quickly decided to build on the work of the original team. Going to the kick off event at USC was so exciting and it was here that we built our Weebly and @namastecalm was born. We felt very excited and proud to be part of this tribe. Despite the excitement of our first couple of meetings, nothing compared to the bonding we experienced during our Saturday retreat where we truly got to know each other and solidified our goals. During our retreat many of us were newly introduced to mindfulness and soon, with practice, we learned how to present this material to other students. We initially met as a team every Friday during lunch but quickly realized that our crammed agenda was never completed. We had to decide whether to not do everything we initially wanted to do or to commit more time to the project. Even though we were all busy and pulled in many directions, no one wanted to drop any part of the project. This confirmed that we needed an additional meeting at nutrition every Friday. As our projects took off, we all sacrificed class time as well. We realized also that we needed to break into smaller groups in order to get more done and have more accountability. One of the highlights for the team was going together to the screening of “Hidden Figures”. We were so inspired by the speakers and energized by seeing all of the teams of young women there together. (You can see our photos of this event under Our Journey/Activities and @namastecalm). This was a great way to start the second semester as it brought us all together after the break and inspired and motivated us as we began two of the major parts of our project; classroom presentations and fair planning. We had many challenges from the rescheduling of our Mindfulness Fair, to the regulations our Mindfulness Fair booths and vendors had to comply with --including the parent/guardian permission slips required for students to pet the puppies as well as the insurance documents required from all food vendors. We realized that we each have different challenges and different strengths and we learned how to support each other when one of us was down. We used the tools that we were teaching in order to help ourselves manage the stress of handling all of the pieces of this project while still trying to keep up with school and social commitments. The passion that we had for bettering the wellness of our school community is what got us through the difficulties presented to us. As we reflect, we feel we have learned a lot about ourselves even as we have been teaching others. 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.