By Gwen Kaliszewski
On December 12th, 2016, I went on a trip to Salem and visited the capitol building with the Oregon Association of Student Councils Capitol Ambassador Program. This trip was so we could get a feel for the legislative process, and while we were there we had the opportunity to meet with legislative assistants, legislators, the mayor elect of Salem, and the Department of Education.
During our meeting with the Department of Education, we had a discussion time, and one of the questions we talked about was along the lines of “what do you enjoy/appreciate about education?” After a few people got the ball rolling, a student from Wilson High School raised his hand and started talking about the Mindful Studies program, how he personally had not taken it but that he had seen how impactful it was on the lives of his peers.
Dr. Salam Noor, the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Oregon, and the rest of the adults in the room were pleasantly surprised to hear about Mindful Studies. I excitedly raised my hand and started talking about my experience in the class and how incredible and beneficial it was. Right after I finished speaking, a girl from a school outside Portland mentioned that they had something similar that they were slowly implementing. Students all around the room were nodding and smiling, and whispering “that’s so cool!”
I guess I had just taken it for granted, because that was when I first realized how amazing Mindful Studies is, and how lucky I was to have the opportunity to take it. As we continued our discussion, other students chimed in about how it must be so nice to have a relaxing class during a busy day, and to learn strategies on how to combat stress.
School is a pressure cooker, for me especially. The pressure from our teachers to maintain good grades. The pressure from myself to always get an A, because god forbid I get anything less. The constant comparing to my classmates, the pressure to do better than my peers, or at least add up. The pressure of being a teenager, of running in the right social circles, of saying the right thing, of dressing the right way. The pressure of college looming in the distance, of resumes and test scores. The education system is inherently stressful and taxing, both mentally and physically, and to have a space where we can calm our minds and our bodies is vital to our success and happiness.
Mindful Studies has had an incredible impact on my life. Often I take small setbacks or worries and mull them over so much that I spiral into feeling overwhelmed. I am constantly stressing about everything I have to get done. Mindful Studies has helped me immensely in reducing this. The first day of class we started off with a short sitting meditation, and the entire time all I thought about was all of the math homework I had to get done. By the end of the semester, I was able to quiet my mind much more and breathe into the moment. This has been extraordinarily helpful in my life, but I would say that the two biggest skills and knowledge I took away from the class was reflective listening and the importance of empathy and compassion. I am a very talkative person, and I often dominate conversations. Reflective listening is a way for me to step back and allow other people more space to speak, but still show I am engaged. Finally, in the current climate of America, empathy and compassion are vital. Through this class I have seen the effects of it, and how much it can transform a community.
Dr. Noor told us he rarely has high school students come speak with them, something that is so shocking to me. When strategizing on how to improve education, having student voices at the table is vital. Dr. Noor would not have known about Mindful Studies had we not spoken up. The seed has been sown, but the only way for it to grow is for students to continue to voice how crucial mindfulness in schools is. I truly believe that Mindful Studies is a key to educational success, and that it is important for it to be slid into mainstream education, and made available at all schools. The only way to do this is for students to advocate, to talk to their administrators, principals, teachers, and even legislators. As Dr. Noor said, they welcome our ideas.
Resources for students to get involved:
Department of Education:
Find who represents you in the Oregon state legislature: www.oregonlegislature.gov/findyourlegislator/leg-districts.html