JG Larochette knows firsthand how anxiety, depression and stress from trauma can overtake someone’s life.
As a successful elementary school teacher in South Richmond, CA, JG cared deeply for his students, and like many teachers, absorbed their trauma as he struggled to provide a healthy learning environment.
“In 2011, I tried to push through sleepless nights and deep suffering on my own, but eventually realized that I was not able to be fully present for my students,” says Larochette. “For one month, I dedicated himself to the practice of mindfulness, discovering its ability to rewire the brain into optimal mental health.”
Upon his return to the classroom, JG was determined to incorporate the mindfulness and gratitude practices that had healed (and saved) his life. He implemented daily mindfulness and weekly yoga, expressive arts and performing arts, noticing an immediate change in the self-awareness, self-regulation and behavior of his students.
“Mindfulness is so important in young people and teachers’ lives,” says Larochette. “When we have stress that is overwhelming, our brains get hijacked. We change our behaviors as a way to cope and protect ourselves.”
“In my 17 years of education in low-income communities, I’ve seen firsthand how schools have a hard time creating the social, emotional and mental safety for students to thrive,” continues Larochette. “Students are struggling to stay present in school. When faced with stress and trauma, we make unhealthy decisions in survival instinct mode. We have to work on students’ mental/emotional wellbeing first, then the academic portion will thrive. This will lead to young folks feeling empowered and their brains ready to thrive academically.”
JG founded the Mindful Life Project (MLP) to reach a larger population of students needing mindfulness in the classroom. They empower underserved children through mindfulness and other transformative skills to gain self-awareness, confidence, self-regulation and resilience, leading to lifelong success.
Their direct service programs, including the Mindful Community program (whole class/whole school programming) and the Rise-Up program (small group intervention), lead to sustainably embedding mindfulness at all levels of the school ecosystem. Students and educators become inspired, engaged, and motivated to practice mindfulness.
Purpose Built Schools reached out to the MLP to begin implementing programs at Thomasville Heights Elementary School and Slater Elementary School.
“When we look at what our schools are struggling with the most, we see that adults are stressed, students are stressed, and we all have trauma. It’s the greatest health crisis no one is talking about,” says Larochette. “But what I’ve seen at PBSA is true innovation. They are creating school ecosystems where everyone feels like they belong and everyone wants to be proud of their community. We work with many schools where it’s not like that.”
MLP found a strong partnership with Ana Maria Lagasca and Iman Saint Jean, who were hired by Purpose Built Schools to implement the MLP programs at THES and Slater, respectively.
At both schools, MLP provides weekly mindfulness classroom programming for every single student. At Slater, MLP additionally provides small group mindfulness programs, pulling students out of class for 30-45 minutes to practice mindful hip-hop, art and yoga once a week.
“We have seen at THES and Slater that young people are born with innate greatness inside of them,” says Larochette. “When given the proper support and programming, they can thrive. At the MLP school assemblies, I saw kids who have never done mindfulness before practice mindfulness in the most incredibly courageous ways. I can’t speak highly enough about Purpose Built’s young people and staff.
“Mindfulness is a game changer in education, especially when it’s complemented by great and innovative work like PBSA Atlanta is doing.” says Larochette. “That’s the beauty of this partnership. Together, we are providing the greatest whole child experience possible so students can thrive in life.”