Mindfulness Without Borders & The YMCA Academy: Transcendental Education for the 21st Century

05/04/2015 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2016

Mindfulness based education for children and teens requires specialized training, delivery, awareness, and skill. It can seem as easy as implementing one simple lesson in a classroom, but to truly hold space for the powerful development that can occur requires very special attention and skill. In my previous posts, I discussed the concept of Educational Trauma ; how school pressures and stereotypes contribute to alarming suicide rates in students, and how empathy
and design thinking counteract the negative effects of education. Empathy is a critical component of design thinking, and arises with the consistent application of mindful awareness skills and practices. There is an urgent need for increased mindful awareness skills in our schools, for the survival of our species in this biosphere. These skills are now considered fundamental in the repertoire of human social skills and commonly referred to as emotional intelligence, because they contribute to cooperation, survival, connection, community, wonder, imagination, curiosity, openness, and creativity. Mindful awareness programs have the potential to promote the very talents and skills being stifled by traditional educational models.

Susan Kaiser Greenland has greatly influenced my understanding in this area, and was a speaker at TEDxStudioCityED an independently organized TED event I curated in 2012. After the event, Susan introduced me to Theo Koffler, founder of Mindfulness Without Borders, and I've been a big admirer of their work promoting mindful awareness in teens ever since. Theo, along with Jasmin Zeger, director of product development and marketing promote mindful awareness in the form of professional development for educators, an online training program and community, as well as the Mindfulness Ambassador Council (MAC) program for grades 9-12. All of these programs cultivate social emotional learning, communication skills, and emotional competency. They take elements of Native American Council and uniquely blend them with contemporary mindful awareness techniques and community service requirements that nurture the mindful ambassador in every participant. The effects have been documented favorably in studies conducted by the University of Toronto, and can be seen in more than 60 schools, 8500 students, and 1500 professionals in 13 different countries around the world!

Mindfulness Without Borders' MAC Program:

Mindfulness Without Borders' Mindfulness Ambassador Council (MAC) program is a series of 8-12 themed lessons that provide students with the leadership and life skills to navigate their daily challenges and thrive. Each lesson explores tools for increasing self-awareness, reducing stress and anxiety, and developing healthy social-emotional behaviors. The MAC program facilitates the development of the 'whole' student, with special emphasis on skills to support personal, academic and professional success. Through active experiential learning, participants are encouraged to be self-reflective, ask questions to explore their common humanity, and develop personal resources to bridge leadership with civic responsibility. The MAC program specifically mitigates the effects of Educational Trauma because Theo and Jasmin understand that academic stress and pressures take a toll on physical and emotional well-being. The MAC program details acknowledge and respond to symptoms of Educational Trauma by facilitating the development of skills that increase "preparedness for the demands of real life."

The YMCA Academy adopts MWB's MAC Program:
The YMCA Academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is an innovative, highly unique, and alternative high school utilizing the Mindfulness Without Borders MAC program. It is the only YMCA high school in North America, serving 50 students with learning differences; all of whom receive fully differentiated instruction in classes of about 8. The school is unique for including the following components: workplace internships, co-operative learning, special education support, environmental stewardship, career & life skills coaching, and individual education plans for all students. This past February, they introduced gender studies to their students. Dr. Don Adams, Head of School, told me they focus on "self-regulation in the context of mindful awareness skills and practices." In April 2015, YMCA Academy hosted their 5th TEDxYMCAAcademy event, an independently organized TED event, with the theme: The City as Laboratory. The YMCA Academy is not just any school; it's a school of integrated and dynamic 21st century learning!

While the YMCA is a global organization, this is the only high school under its auspices, and inspected semi-annually by Ontario's Ministry of Education. In only 11 years, their students have achieved amazing success as evidenced by results on the Search Institutes 40 Developmental Assets tool. Dr. Adams said: "The YMCA of Greater Toronto is very forward thinking in recognizing community needs and having the insight and resources to serve them!" From my standpoint, the YMCA of Greater Toronto demonstrates a high level of empathy and compassion for the lived experience of modern students.

What educators say about the MAC program:

Kaili Glennon is a teacher, guidance supervisor, and MAC facilitator at The YMCA Academy. She described how their school uses the MAC program by delivering the themed lessons in a monthly large group assembly, called Voices. The following week students meet in smaller groups called TAPS (Taking A Pause,) where they delve deeper into the lessons. Ms. Glennon described the impact the MAC program has had on their students as follows: "It teaches, helps nurture and allows time to practice the most fundamental human skills; kindness sensitivity, self-awareness, and compassion towards self and others." These skills and abilities contribute to empathy, which is a component of compassion, and supports the healing of Educational Trauma in students and adults alike.

According to Dr. Adams, the YMCA Academy school community meets twice monthly, and practices mindfulness training two times everyday. Ms. Glennon shared that the second daily practice of 3 minutes was initiated following student request. The receptivity and adaptability of the staff at the YMCA Academy represents an example of co-learning. Co-learning is the bi-directional experience of learning that takes place in all parties. It results from a temporary, quasi-blurring of boundaries between students and educators that contributes to flow. Flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is "a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity." It's the birthplace of learning, creativity, invention, fun, and joy. It's the magical place where effortful skill acquisition and demonstration feel almost effortless because time and space become temporarily suspended. When this occurs in the context of co-learning, all parties experience co-ownership and co-leadership of the learning experience. This is one way of igniting the self-directed learning and intrinsic motivational potential inherent in all humans. It also contributes to the healing of Educational Trauma. Mindfulness Without Borders' MAC program trains educators in how to promote these types of experiences and specifically how to help students cultivate critical 21st century skills.

In sum, the negative effects of traditional education upon students result from stress and pressure that can accumulate as Educational Trauma. When the YMCA Academy adopted Mindfulness Without Borders' MAC program, it became a nexus for co-learning, promoting 21st century skills and emotional intelligence, while healing Educational Trauma. Beyond innovative, it represents transcendental education for the 21st century.