Being Mindful: A Class, An Attitude, A Lifestyle


By Nicolas Brown, reporter

It is not widely known, but there is a class about mindfulness at Cleveland. What’s that? According to its students, mindfulness is defined as a way of living “here and now with kindness” by living in the present moment without judgments. It is a way to connect with yourself and others on a deeper level, living life without strife and inner turmoil; realizing that everyone has bad days and that that’s ok; acknowledging what you feel but not beating yourself up over it; understanding that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to; gaining the ability to acknowledge self talk; and just overall being happier about yourself, thus being able to interact with family and friends in a healthier manner. The journey of being mindful is a lifelong practice. You’ll keep learning new strategies and techniques to strengthen the process.

Mindful Studies, as it is formally known at Cleveland, is a peaceful and relaxing place to learn how to be mindful. The class is run by a non-profit organization called Peace In Schools, which serves as a community partner with PPS. Their goal is to help teenagers with their daily struggles, such as depression, negative self-image, thoughts of hurting anyone, or helping you through stressful situations. It began as an after-school program at Wilson High in 2013, and has now turned into a for-credit class in 10 PPS high schools. .

The class creates a feeling of openness and non-judgement. An environment of care is supported. Other people’s experiences are acknowledged and validated without comment; you can share feelings without being judged, state opinions without anyone saying you’re wrong, and  talk to a peer without feeling uncomfortable. In my own experience, it’s the first class where I feel like I can talk out loud and not automatically be judged based on my appearance or who I am. It feels like I am in a group of like-minded people who I feel comfortable with.

Barnaby Willett is co-teacher of the mindfulness class and the Director of Innovation and Partnerships, and Lead Teacher for Peace in Schools. It is also co-taught this year by Gaye Chapman, a popular Cleveland health teacher. Barnaby is very personable, a good listener if you need someone to talk to, and likes to get to know and become friends with all of his students. He is relaxed and is always telling jokes and stories associated with the topic we are learning. He is a tea enthusiast and an admirer of mindfulness. Barnaby and I are now good friends. We share a lot of views on life and how the world could be very different if everyone practiced being mindful. We meet at the coffee shop across from Cleveland to talk sometimes. I have never had a teacher who wants to build a friendly relationship with his students until Barnaby.  

The class has plenty of space to move around and it adds an open feeling unlike most other classrooms. Before going inside it is asked that you remove your shoes because the classroom is also used for a yoga class. Taking your shoes off also allows you to be more grounded in the moment. Walking into the class you will see everyone sitting on yoga mats and being silent. The class is taking a “mindful minute.” This is a time to reflect on the day and bring attention to the present. On the first day of class Barnaby introduce himself by telling a personal story about his life. This practice of vulnerability is uncommon in school, and creates a safe and genuine environment. Unlike traditional classes, both teachers are on a first name basis with their students. The entire class also plays a game to help remember everyone’s name. After that Barnaby will start a “lighting round,” which is a question posed to the entire class, and everyone has the option of answering. You can always pass on the question if you don’t feel like sharing. It will not impact your grade at all. After that, the class does “mindful movement,” which is like yoga, led by Gaye Chapman. Barnaby then leads meditation, either self-guided or guided with imagery, followed by the mindfulness lesson of the day. Finally, you reflect on the lesson in your journal and share if you feel like it.

This class has been an amazing eye-opening experience and a wonderful journey. As a person who has been through a lot, including hospitalization, bus accidents, a dad who didn’t support me, being on the brink of death twice, and being stigmatized daily for having a physical disability, I have gained the ability to become more open; I have made a few good friends and I am able to be in a class that does not make me feel like an outsider. To be able to have a place where I feel like I can let my walls down is really freeing. I’m excited to take it again this semester. In my opinion, this class can help anyone who takes it. I strongly suggest taking Mindfulness as a course next school year; if you do, you might be surprised of what comes of it.  Whether you’re depressed, having trouble with stress, or struggle interacting with people, this class can help you find the tools you need to navigate those daily challenges