High school students often underestimate how much stress affects their daily lives. To change this, one Yale student group is bringing mindfulness to Elm City schools.
The Yale Undergraduate Mindfulness Education Initiative — which aims to empower young people with the tools and knowledge to manage stress and other difficult life events —- has been raising awareness about mental well-being on Yale’s campus as an official student organization since last semester. YUMEI began recruiting students to facilitate stress management workshops and practical information sessions this fall. As their application cycle draws to a close Tuesday morning, YUMEI is preparing to pilot a stress management workshop in New Haven high schools this fall and to develop a series of four to five additional workshops that can be taught over the course of a semester.
“Teenagers grapple with stress from a variety of sources: everything from academics to changing interpersonal relationships,” YUMEI treasurer Elizabeth Karron ’18 said. “Especially in New Haven — a city with a lot of single-parent households, lots of families struggling to make ends meet, a relatively high rate of domestic violence — there are so many different sources of stress.”
YUMEI President Aneesha Ahluwalia ’16 said the organization’s desire to serve New Haven schools comes in response to the absence of a mental well-being component in many of the schools’ health curricula.
Ahluwalia said YUMEI reached out to the Office of New Haven and State Affairs to facilitate formal connections between YUMEI and New Haven schools so the group could gain permission to teach at the schools.
YUMEI has designed one workshop so far and will pilot it at a small number of New Haven schools this semester before collaborating with more schools and training more undergraduate facilitators in the spring.
Prior to establishing YUMEI, Ahluwalia created a series of mindfulness workshops that drew on her own experience, including mindfulness workshops she had enrolled in and her research experience at the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, Ahluwalia said.
Ahluwalia taught this mindfulness series to high-school seniors at New Haven’s Metropolitan Business Academy during her junior year. During these sessions, Ahluwalia taught her students how to accept life events out of their control, such as college rejection letters or difficult finances, said Leslie Blatteau, who teaches the peer leadership class at the Metropolitan Business Academy.
She added that Ahluwalia also showed students that being mindful is integral to leading a healthy life.
Ahluwalia’s students later conducted their own meditation workshop for freshmen at their high school, Blatteau said.
“[Ahluwalia] set a high standard,” Blatteau said. “I hope there will be a cohort of undergrads who continue to have the same commitment to excellence and warm, positive energy that she has.”
Though YUMEI’s workshops are currently geared towards high-school students, YUMEI might adapt their curriculum to suit younger students in the future, Ahluwalia said.
Undergraduates interested in becoming facilitators need not have prior experience with mindfulness or stress management techniques, Karron said. The initiative will teach them to handle their own stress as well as to provide others with such tools, she added.
The initiative also aims to teach Yale students about mindfulness, Ahluwalia said, adding that she envisions YUMEI becoming another wellness resource at Yale. Earlier this month, YUMEI collaborated with the Yale College Council to host a stress management workshop for students.
University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews unveiled a wellness website last month, as part of a broader wellness initiative at the University.