Last year around the holidays, I was rolling towels before class with my coworker Michaela Moseley, an American Literature and AP English Language and Composition educator at West Charlotte High School. Coming to the studio was something I always looked forward to because I was able to hear about the various activities that were taking place in her classroom. It was this particular time where I asked her how school was going and she shared how difficult the holidays can be for many of her students. I think it’s fair to say high school is a challenging time for everyone, but many of her students have more to worry about than grades, college essays, and fitting in.
West Charlotte High is a trauma informed school. Teachers and administrators say when students are exposed to violence – whether at home, in their neighborhoods, in their relationships, or being homeless – it leaves them traumatized. That means if students are acting out, teachers try to figure out why. They respond, care for, and teach them in a different way. They ask questions, listen, and try to figure out what needs aren’t being met instead of going straight to punishment.
Michaela said she started integrating mindfulness into her classroom and was blown away by the response. Since she wasn’t a certified yoga teacher at the time, she asked if I’d be interested in coming to school to teach yoga for her students before winter break. I enthusiastically accepted her invitation.
I got on social media and asked for donations of gently-used yoga mats and was able to round up 30 in less than two weeks. We moved their desks to the corner of the classroom and laid them all out. We received a little pushback at first – mostly having to do with taking off their shoes, but they all clearly love and respect Michaela so much; they reluctantly agreed. We sat on the floor and I explained what meditation is – essentially, its giving your brain a break. Concentrating on one thing – whether it’s your breath or a guided journey using visualization.
Since they’re high schoolers, I assumed there would be giggling and/or resistance to stillness. I was wrong. Within 45 seconds of the opening meditation, they were more than just receptive, they were laser-focused. A sense of relief filled the room. I find this interesting – how willing high school students are to be still if you give them space to do so. They are 10 times more relaxed than your average room of adults in a yoga studio squirming around during savasana. During one of the classes, every single student fell asleep.
After we were done, Michaela asked them if they wanted to share about their experience during the guided meditation. One after another, they told us where they went, who they saw, how they felt. Unprompted, they also shared how much more relaxed they felt than when they came in. There was a lot of, “I didn’t want to do this at first but I feel so much better now.”
I started coming to school once a month, but Michaela began integrating mindfulness meditations into her classroom weekly, sometimes daily. She started to see positive results. The students’ mindsets changed and they saw themselves in a positive light. They were more focused. By the end of the year suspension rates and referrals decreased.
“I was in awe of how receptive they were to having the opportunity to practice mindfulness each week,” said Michaela. “I extended the services to other educators and as a whole school we were beginning to function as a team. The way students talked one another changed; they were able to communicate, find understanding, and show empathy for others, which I do not think would have been possible if it were not for practicing mindfulness.”
Michaela Moseley guiding a meditation with NBA All-Star Khris Middleton and the West Charlotte High Basketball team
What Michaela was doing got the attention of her principal and eventually the superintendent. When the NBA All-Star Game came to Charlotte in February, NBA Cares, the league’s global social responsibility program, surprised the school by refurbishing the boys and girls locker rooms. The NBA and Kaiser Permanente heard about what Michaela was doing in her classroom and asked how they could help. She shared her vision of creating an environment in the school where staff members and students have a safe place to have conversations, reflect, and heal. A week later, we were unpacking boxes from Amazon that were filled with meditation cushions, string lights, decorations, benches for storing shoes. Headspace, a mediation app designed to help reduce stress, donated a year-long subscription for teachers. Kaiser Permanente donated new yoga mats, StarMed Family & Urgent Care donated enough blankets and blocks for each kid to have two. Within a few hours, an empty trailer was transformed into a sanctuary.
Mindfulness space at West Charlotte High
Fast-forward eight months, and Michaela is now a certified yoga teacher and lululemon’s Here to Be Partner. Here to Be is lululemon’s global social impact program where they provide grants to vendors in initiating and facilitating impact projects that support access to health, education, and yoga and mindfulness. We decided we need to create and support as many mindfulness spaces in our community as possible, so we started a non-profit called JamsCity Fund.
Our goal is to spread the importance and practice of mindfulness throughout the educational sector of the community. Being mindful means to be reflective; giving individuals a space to reflect on their own being. JamsCity takes the initiative a step further by creating a space to have the difficult conversations surrounding race, gender, equity, and equality. As the foundation continues to promote the importance of mental health, they are visiting schools and implementing strategies that will support the needs of the children and staff.
JamsCity x lululemon is hosting a fundraiser at Not Just Coffee’s spectacular new Jay Street location on Thursday, September 19th at 6:30pm and we would love your support. All proceeds go toward raising money for a mindfulness space at Winecoff Elementary School. The evening will begin with a gentle, all-levels yoga flow with Alex Lancucki and a guided meditation with Michaela. Individuals will go through a combination of poses that open up the heart, followed by a meditation segment that provides grounding and acceptance for who we are today. Stick around after class for Not Just Coffee, cocktails, incredible raffle prizes and more.
Tickets for the event are $20 and can be purchased on SweatNET’s website here: https://sweatnetusa.com/listing/mindfulme/
*Please ship items to the following address:
Winecoff Elementary School
375 E Winecoff School Rd, Concord, NC 28027
You can also donate to JamsCity fund via PayPal: https://www.paypal.me/jamscity
To contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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