Mindfulness and Learning Boot Camp a Success
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Left: From left: Teacher Gustavo Vasquez and students Damani Philips, 11th grade and Nyjah Young-Bey, 12th grade
Right: Brothers Michael and Arthur Nintzel
Montclair High School English teacher Andrea Smith-Morgan, founder of the non-profit organization Mindful Awareness Academy for Children (MAAC) which was created and designed to address the achievement gap with a focus on ELA and a mindful approach to learning, sponsored the first ever free summer ELA boot camp for MHS students.
During the last two weeks of August, 23 students spent three hours a day working with English and Language Arts teachers Gustavo Vasquez and Sally Rembert. Ninth and tenth graders focused on Honors instruction, short stories, analysis of text and literary devices, while eleventh and twelfth graders concentrated on AP/High Honors instruction, college essays, and decoding texts.
“The idea came from 24 years of teaching in the Montclair Public Schools,” said Smith-Morgan. “I’ve had the opportunity to really think about the needs of our students of color, which are the majority of my students. In 2015, (Montclair’s) Achievement Gap Advisory Panel stated, ‘The time has come to eliminate structural barriers to ensure that we realize equal opportunity for all. The data shows we have distinct and unacceptable paths of learning.’ This was my time.”
Smith-Morgan said it took about one year from the “thought” stage to actual “action.” She received $5,000 from a private donor with support from family, friends, and members of the community.
In addition to the academic focus, students were introduced to mindful practices. Twenty minutes a day were devoted to stillness, quiet and being present. “Our working definition of mindfulness was written on the whiteboard daily,” she explained. “It was about paying attention to the here and now, with awareness and non-judgment.”
Guest speakers visited including Fred Randall, founder of The Mindful Breath Foundation, Denise Patrick, Montclair State University (MSU) professor of freshman writing, Brendan Gill, President of the Essex County Freeholders, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, MHS Alumni, and Adele Basile, MSU professor/Assistant Registrar, visited the students to share their advice and experiences on “How to Approach Your Genius in a Mindful Way.”
The district supplied students with copies of “Rules of the Red Rubber Ball” by Kevin Carroll. Superintendent Kendra V. Johnson spoke to the participants on the first day of the program. “She motivated and inspired the students to work hard, reminding them to utilize the high school resources,” said Smith-Morgan.
Students who attended the sessions said they greatly benefited from the program and offered gratitude and praise. "I just wanted to say thank you and that I appreciate everything you've done with this program,” said twelfth grader Victoria Graham. “It is something that is much needed in our community and I am glad that you took the initiative to develop something so awesome! I've learned a lot. I now incorporate meditation into my daily routine and I read ‘The Rules of the Red Rubber Ball’ to my younger brothers. I hope you continue this great program.”
Twelfth grader Rachel Gayle agreed. "I think this is just what I needed to prep for my senior year. I’m going into my senior year a little more confident, prepared, and supported. The guest speakers were incredible and I learned so much from them. I loved my instructor, Ms. Rembert. She is very passionate, which made me enjoy even more of the texts we read."
Dr. Johnson also highly commended the success of program. “I am so honored to have Smith-Morgan leading this work for our students. These are exciting times,” she said.
Smith-Morgan hopes to make the program available to students again next year. For now, she is confident that these participants “learned that in the end, everything will be OK. They learned how to incorporate mindful practices in their daily lives. They learned that they are supported. They learned that they are seen, heard, and valued. They learned that they matter.”