The meditation room on the fourth floor of Brooklyn College Academy is cooler and quieter than the rest of the school, painted a faint gray with complementary cushions and low lighting.
But the room didn’t always look this way. For 20 years, it was an abandoned home economics classroom brimming with books, broken computers, and other forgotten stuff.
Now, teachers and administrators at Brooklyn College Academy, a New York City public school that prepares students for college study, want their meditation room to be a model for other schools across the five boroughs.
The former classroom’s transformation was completed in June 2017 after the school received a $10,000 grant from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and additional donations. Students in the ninth and tenth grade (eleventh and twelfth graders attend class on a different campus) practice mindfulness during school hours with instructors from MNDFL Ed, the nonprofit wing of MNDFL, a secular meditation studio with three locations in New York City.
“I got into meditation in ninth grade because of [my teacher] Dr. Noble; she started doing it in the beginning of our global class,” said Damkina Jeromey, 15, who is now in tenth grade and her second year as a meditator. “At the beginning of ninth grade I was stressed out, always worrying. School is very rigorous because [I go to an] early college high school, so I have a lot of work to do. Also, I go to an extracurricular program called Legal Outreach, and they give a lot of work, too. It was really rough for me in the beginning. Mindfulness really helped me destress and stop worrying too much.”
Jeromey, who hopes to become a prosecutor, practiced over the summer on her own. She said mindfulness has helped manage her migraine headaches and improve her grades and relationships with other people.
Before there was a dedicated room and trained instructors, Lisa Noble started her classes with a mindfulness exercise. Noble, a social studies teacher and mindfulness practitioner who has taken Mindful Schools and MBSR [Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction] courses, said that she got into meditation as a way to deal with the physically and emotionally draining teaching profession.
Noble said she sees mindfulness’s value, especially when it comes to students who are from low-income households or whose families are homeless.
“It’s this idea of them having a space that they’re not getting in a home. I feel that this is a gift,” Noble said. “I can’t financially support everybody, but if I can build spaces and create places for people to be in and relate to others from, that’s an infrastructure,” she continued.
Brooklyn College Academy is in the running for a $100,000 grant from Farmer’s Insurance to expand the hours that meditation is offered, as well as train teachers, integrate the program with counseling, and conduct an academic study. Voting is open through October 30.
It’s not just the school’s students who are getting into meditation. Teachers and administrators at the school now start their professional development meetings with mindfulness or another introspective activity, such as coloring or free writing.
“The kids are loving it; there’s a nice buzz that’s going on,” said Nicholas Mazzarella, Brooklyn College Academy’s principal. “I think our next step is to get more staff members involved and figure out how we can utilize this great program and space in our building.”
Mazzarella said the program is optional for both students and staff, and has been embraced by parents and the parent-teachers association.