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. Students have 8 classes at Grand Arts, whereas students on traditional high school campuses have 6. 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.