Can Meditation Prevent Suicide?

It’s no secret that high school has become a lot more stressful than it used to be, from high stakes testing to social stress. In two high schools in the heart of Silicon Valley since 2009, there have been 12 suicides. This has prompted some serious soul searching by parents, school counselors, students and administrators, and major changes in the way these schools educate students. Much of the change has been driven by students themselves.

 

Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) for Schools Uses Six Seconds Assessments to Measure Success

It’s no secret that high school has become a lot more stressful than it used to be, from high stakes testing to social stress. In two high schools in the heart of Silicon Valley since 2009, there have been 12 suicides. This has prompted some serious soul searching by parents, school counselors, students and administrators, and major changes in the way these schools educate students. Much of the change has been driven by students themselves.

Prompted by their own students, administrators at these schools, Henry M. Gunn and Palo Alto High Schools, invited YES! a meditation and Social Emotional Learning program, to come do a series of meditation workshops. Using their signature yogic breathing techniques, the program saw some significant results in a fairly short amount of time.

Six Seconds’ interviewed Elan Gepner, Director of YES! for schools about his experience using Six Seconds’ SEI-YV assessments to measure the impact of teaching EQ alongside his existing program.

How did you approach this situation?

Elan: In the context of working with Gunn High School, it’s a joy to be in an environment where they’ve taken a proactive view of this. These are some of the best and brightest students in the country and holding themselves to the highest expectations of achievement and rigor. They have experienced the downside of that with the loss of student life in this district. It was a huge wake up call that something was wrong.

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The district has looked at all the factors. They are saying the priority is the well- being of their students above everything, and how do they look at that in an authentic way. Gunn High School really followed the lead of their students and made some powerful and systemic changes. They changed their schedule to create space for students to have more time and more rest. They were very proactive, and they brought us in through the vision of their students. Their student council requested this work. I tip my hat to them to have the courage as an institution for really listening to the students and asking them, “What are your needs and how can we help meet them in an authentic way?”

logoOur program provides services for schools and SEL and physiological stress reduction processes and we have been working in the Bay Area for several years now. Recently in the Palo Alto school district, and we’ve been working with Gunn HS for several years now, 9th and 10th graders. We focused on 9th graders. We wanted to look critically at impact of the curriculum we were providing in terms of well being stress management, personal efficacy and emotion management. We came across Six Seconds in the process of identifying different measures, scales and assessment parameters that we could utilize to discern how students and scales to measure how students were benefiting from our program.

What was your program design?

Elan: YES! for Schools operates by providing students and staff with an intensive training in a series of breathing techniques and stress reduction processes along with a series of life skills and tools to help one manage emotions in the mind and navigate challenging situations.

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YES! for Schools taught its Stress Reduction and Human Values program to nearly 500 Freshmen at Gunn HS from Aug 18-Sep 2 2016.

YES! offered at the very beginning of the school yearGHS PE staff requested for the program to be offered in the first 3 weeks of the school year. The idea was to equip Freshmen with the necessary tools right at the beginning of their High School life.

It was also decided to offer YES! as a 7 session program, followed by 6 follow up sessions through the rest of the school year. This way students have access to YES! techniques at frequent intervals during the school year.

YES! was taught through 14 Freshmen PE classes. A total of 2.5 weeks were spent with the students giving them the opportunity to learn new techniques to help with stress and negative emotions. Students and teachers at GHS were very receptive to the program, so, some of the main techniques from the YES! Advanced program, usually a separate 2 week program, were also covered in the 2.5 weeks.

The first week of YES! in the PE classes was spent discussing the importance of awareness, energy, and how the breath can be used to increase both.

Students also learned the importance of keeping their power by staying in control of their emotions. They walked away with two practical tools they can use when they find their “buttons being pushed”—awareness and victory breath. Victory breath is a physiological response mechanism used to calm the mind and body when a negative emotion arises. Many students find it useful not only when in an intense situation but also when they find it difficult to fall asleep at night.

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Through the rest of the program, students were taught a total of six breathing practices to help increase their energy, calm, and focus the mind. Students also engaged in physical activity through running, stretching, exercise and games. Additional key topics of discussed throughout the program included the significance of responsibility, starting with one’s state of mind, being natural, and understanding the math of the mind, our tendencies and transforming habits, among others.

Students ended the program with the YES! SKY Advanced Breathing home practice. The YES! home practice is recommended for students to do on a daily basis in order to relieve stress, increase energy and focus the mind. We will be refreshing and reinforcing this practice during monthly follow ups.

We found some compelling shifts across the scales in students’ EQ and capacity…In the student population of Gunn High School, in the heart of Silicon Valley, it is extraordinarily stressed beyond the normal population for this age group. They’re really benefitting from finding tools they can use, they are feeling enriched by having tools at their disposal throughout the day, as their stress levels rise. They are utilizing the breathing practices. That is the key indicator: The students feeling well able to implement them as they need them.

We were happy to have an assessment tool like Six Seconds youth emotional intelligence assessment, SEI-YV, to look at the impact. For our other schools, we have a full SEL curriculum, which includes processes and language and vocabulary for staff and training in the processes of the SEL program so they can be reinforced across the school. In addition to the cognitive SEL framework, they have immediate tools they can utilize to help students focus to help them settle down if they’re riled up, or if they’re tired at the end of the day. These become significant boons to allow students to effectively manage their emotions.

THE FINDINGS:

Based on Pre and Post assessment, we marked increase across ALL Emotional Intelligence indicators among YES! course participants. The greatest shifts were in Enhanced Emotional Literacy, Pursuit of Noble Goals, and EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

results

 

Looking at the overall spectrum of scores, another telling element is the baseline Emotional Intelligence of the Gunn Freshmen was already substantial, with an average of roughly 70% of students already in the “functional” realm. While the total in the functional realm remained relatively consistent, the percentage of students in the “Skilled” and “Expert” ranges increased by 20%.

summary

The Emotional Intelligence is important because it provides a good foundation for feeling healthy, having quality relationships, being satisfied with life, having various personal achievements and exercising self-efficacy. In short, good Emotional Intelligence capability enables you to thrive in life.

Evaluating the responses, Six Seconds assessment found significant increases among post-YES! respondents in Overall Wellbeing, Self-Efficacy, Good Health, and Life Satisfaction

Elan: It was wonderful to be able to utilize the tools of Six Seconds, and though it was minimal, we saw an increase in all these EQ competencies. The way the data was presented, it showed an increase from skilled to expert, we saw a significant increase of those students who were already skilled, shifting up to an expert competency. For those who had that sense already, it was really significantly enhanced, the number of people in the skilled in the expert range.

We are looking at increasing levels of stress in our society. You are pushing against a society trend to “race to the top”, etc. Students can feel they aren’t loved by their parents if they don’t get into an Ivy League school. How do you address that?

Elan: This element of dealing with the pressure from the family is a very interesting one, and it’s a very gentle one that one needs to address. There are a lot of cultural components in it. In an environment like Palo Alto you have a large percentage of Asian and immigrant families, where there is a really wonderful aspiration and drive, and there are different feelings about testing and the implications of testing so there are a lot of different factors, so you can create an environment that meets needs for rigor and performance, and also balances that with well being.

We looked at something called parental conditional regard. It is an assessment to what degree a young person feels their sense of self worth is impacted by a parent’s opinion of them, and how much their perception of a parent’s love for them is contingent on conditions. It is not to have a one-dimensional response, but we were happy to see that the students at Palo Alto High School, they asked for the program after we did the work at Gunn. We hopped from one school to another.

We saw a 30% shift in the reduction of parental conditional regard, i.e, students feeling their parent’s love for them was based on certain conditions. That was heartening. More so than any program or tool, this is a societal question, implicit in the movie “Race to Nowhere”. You have countries like Bhutan evaluating their Gross National Happiness.

How are we really supporting our children and giving them the tools to be successful and really defining success? We find people are readily leaving schools with academic tools, but are they leaving school with emotional tools to handle the stresses of life? If we just acknowledge that the world is moving ever faster and stress is rising these days, that our devices are always pulling our attention that there is less and less down time, are we teaching students how NOT to do, how to decompress, how to be at peace, no matter what is happening?

It is different than just having a materialistic goal that one moves toward in linear fashion. Those skilled to expert folks tend to amplify the social effect on their friends.

Elan: We are so deeply influenced by our environment in this age group.

The program was recently the focus of a NOVA PBS special. Watch it here.

              

Rachel Goodman

Rachel Goodman

Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and communications professional, editor, producer, and writer for effective outcomes. Ms. Goodman has been a radio producer for much of her career, specializing in short features and documentaries. Some of her work includes Southern Songbirds: the Women of Early Country Music, Pastures of Plenty: A History of California's Farmworkers, and The Boomtown Chronicles: Reflections on a Changing California. Ms. Goodman teaches journalism at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County. Her goals are to facilitate positive change in the world through effective communication, and to continue conducting her work with the highest level of integrity possible.
Rachel Goodman

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