NBC4 meditates on Whitman mindfulness

By Carmen Molina

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News is about covering and informing on the new or unusual, and recently an NBC reporter covered the most unusual thing indeed: Whitman students. Doing nothing.

Instead of frantically copying notes or listening intently to their teacher, the students’ had their eyes closed and their heads bent as a mindfulness trainer had them focus on the tension in their bodies.

Whitman’s Stressbusters committee introduced mindfulness education to students in 2014 with a pilot program by Minds Inc., a nonprofit that teaches mindfulness in DC-area schools. The program, which involves trainers holding mindfulness sessions like these once a week in underclassmen English classes, was briefly suspended and then relaunched this year. NBC4 featured the Whitman program as part of a week long series on reducing stress in the community March 1.

Mindfulness, the “moment-to-moment awareness and understanding of the reality of what is happening inside our body, our mind, and our external environment,” first appeared in the medical field during the 1970s, according to Minds Inc.

Though the initial mindfulness program was successful, it was discontinued last year in favor of promoting mindfulness with teacher volunteers in order to cut costs. Whitman chose to relaunch the Minds Inc. program this year because although it’s more expensive, it was perceived as more effective, principal Alan Goodwin said.

“Mindfulness has become a fundamental conversation when you’re talking about helping people perform better, helping people manage their stress better and helping people feel better,” Stressbusters chair Mimi Darmstadter said. “That’s certainly our goal for students in the school: we want them to be most effective in their roles as students, and often that means knowing how to destress.”

There are very few situations in life that adults have to go through that are as fragmented and constantly changing as the high school day.

— English teacher Prudence Crewdson

Minds Inc. sends instructors into underclassmen English classrooms once a week to lead students through mindfulness and meditation exercises, with the goal of providing students knowledge to enable them to practice mindfulness on their own. They also aim to show teachers how to continue to promote mindfulness within the classroom, Minds Inc. program director Dave Trachtenberg said.

Mindfulness trainer Devin Maroney (‘01) said that it is scientifically proven to be an effective coping method for stress.

“There’s a ton of research that has come out that shows that the brain actually changes [with mindfulness],” Maroney said. “The amygdala, the part of the brain that’s responsible for flight-or-flight, actually shrinks and the prefrontal cortex expandsthat’s the part that’s responsible for insight, interpersonal relationships and intuition, a sense of peace and wellbeing.”

English teacher Prudence Crewdson, who practices a minute of mindfulness to begin each one of her English classes, said she believes it is especially useful in high school.

“There are very few situations in life that adults have to go through that are as fragmented and constantly changing as the high school day,” Crewdson said. “So I think it’s particularly helpful to just take a minute to sit quietly and let whatever was going on fade a little bit.”

NBC4 reporter trainee Aimee Cho captured footage of Whitman mindfulness sessions Feb. 28 in order to share the value of mindfulness with the community beyond the school, she said. Cho filmed English teachers Madeleine Tanzi’s first period and Emily Glass’ second period for the segment, which aired from 4:30 to 7 a.m. March 1 and can now be found on the NBC website.

“It’s a very important topic to a lot of students, and a lot of people around our area are under high pressure,” Cho said. “We wanted to give viewers a way to cope with it.”

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