Now is a critical moment to bolster mental health support for school-aged children and teenagers, say Ben Painter and Selena La’Chelle Collazo, two of four partners at WholeSchool Mindfulness. “I think a lot of schools are in crisis mode,” says Painter, who focuses on strategic growth for the organization.
WholeSchool Mindfulness helps schools create, fill, and support the position of a Mindfulness Director—a permanent staff member who works at a school and teaches mindfulness to students, staff, and parents. “We strive to live out justice by partnering with communities to practice joy, equity, and inclusion, so community is woven throughout the way that we think about the work that we do,” says La’Chelle Collazo, who is responsible for outreach and recruitment of Mindfulness Directors. Since 2019, WholeSchool has placed 15 Mindfulness Directors in schools across the US.
Reflecting on her own education, La’Chelle Colazzo credits her great-grandmother, Bertha, who loved to learn but was pulled from school in the sixth grade to look after five younger siblings. La’Chelle Collazo now holds five university degrees. She smiles when she remembers the time that Bertha tried to enroll her in kindergarten at the age of three.
“I just thought it was going to help me be present. But it really shifted my mental health and gave me a new way to live my life.”Selena La’Chelle Colazzo
In college, La’Chelle Colazzo struggled with severe depression and mindfulness was the game changer that helped her heal. “I just thought it was going to help me be present. But it really shifted my mental health and gave me a new way to live my life,” she says.
For Painter, mindfulness was part of his education at Middlesex School in Massachusetts, taught by Doug Worthen who later became a cofounder of WholeSchool Mindfulness. Painter says that his practice stayed consistent partly because mindfulness had helped some of his family with mental illness, but mainly because he thought Worthen was cool and relatable. “I think it speaks to the teacher-student relationship and people embodying the practice in authentic ways—that can be a bit contagious, so these practices will spread at the natural speed of trust within a community,” he says.
“Middlesex was communicating to me that this mental health support isn’t just for some students who need it; this is a kind of foundational learning that we want for all of our students.”
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