Miami Beach Senior High, or Beach High as any half-decent student who spent their share of time there remembers the place, fondly or otherwise, is a school deserving of the many colorful descriptors bestowed upon it. Among the pile of lovable nicknames, Beach High has on occasion been referred to as "un tremendo show" and "a carnival of idiots."
Generally speaking, though, you're not all that likely to find phrases like "house of tranquility," or "halcyon hideaway"being tossed around in association with the much maligned educational establishment that sits a stone's throw north of Lincoln Road and just a casual stroll away from the wide shorelines of South Beach. But if Elon Richman has his way, it may well be that Beach High is about to become a much more peaceful place.
Richman, who recently returned from a 6-month sojourn about the Indian subcontinent, has decided to bring meditation to the stressed, confused, borderline psychotic masses that make up the student body of our strange little alma mater. Aside from the affectionate vitriole that so many former Hi-Tides like myself enjoy spewing, those of us who've enough brain cells intact to reminisce over our days on Prairie Avenue can distinctly remember the tension of walking those halls, desperately trying to avoid fucking up on a 1,000 different fronts -- talking to girls, applying to colleges, cramming for tests, cheating like madmen. In retrospect, it's almost a goddamn miracle that any of us make it out of the joint alive.
It was precisely this vivid retrospective sense of the pressure we felt as students that drove Elon to start the meditation program.
"While I was in India, I did ten days of silence, called Vipassana, and learned to meditate," explains Richman. "I had a lot of anxieties before that and I didn't really know how to handle them, I didn't know how to quiet the mind and all the chatter that goes on, and that was something really huge for me to learn. I wished that I'd known about this earlier, especially during that crazy period in high school, so I thought I'd take it there [Miami Beach Senior High] and see if I could share it with the students."
And it turned out that his idea would receive a very warm reception. "There's been very little pushback, actually. All the teachers and administrators I've spoken to have been absolutely on board." Among those on board was Ms. Jennifer Russell, teacher of Biology at Beach High, who already has a reputation for being into alternative thought and organizes the meetings for the Beach High Ecology club, which intends to focus on introducing students to organic gardening in the near future.
As Elon explains, bringing meditation to Beach High was a relatively smooth process, "I put together a four-page proposal for a sort of 'Ecology Club Presents: Meditation Time,' that described when we would meet and what we would do for the thirty minutes, as well as some of the goals and benefits of meditation, and she dug the idea."
Richman's proposal reads like a short grant application. It's concise and direct, citing a number of studies from a variety of sources, ranging from the University of Pennsylvania to the Flinder's Medical Centre for Neuroscience, that have found measurable changes in the human brain and mental acuity as results of meditative states. According to Richman, there are about 200,000 public schools, mostly located in Michigan, California, and New York, with some form of quiet thought or reflective meditation period during the course of the school day.
"To the best of my knowledge, the closest thing in Miami-Dade County to a meditation program like the one at Beach High is at DASH (Design and Architecture Senior High), where one of the teachers, who happens to have a yoga instructors certification, leads a yoga session in the school courtyard during lunch," says Richman.
So far, it appears the program is off to a great start. At the first meeting, Richman says, "We had about 25 or 30 kids, and the responses from them have been totally positive, saying they felt refreshed and more able to tune out the noise outside the classroom. My drive now is to be there every day so that I can keep giving these students a place to decompress and learn a helpful skill."
Elon give a straight forward explanation when asked how this meditation period works.
"Basically, we meet at 2:35 once school gets out and spend the first 10 minutes discussing the benefits of meditation and I give a little bit of an explanation of the technique. We do a 2-minute practice run to make sure everybody's comfortable and on the same page, then we do 10 minutes of silent meditation and afterwards, we talk about it."
Richman is very pleased with the initial success of the program and he has high hopes for its future.
"For now, the goal is to get more attention and more exposure and try to get someone like Ms. Russell to do 10 minutes of meditation at the beginning of each class, since they have hour and a half long periods nowadays. Eventually, I'd love to have it institutionalized as a part of the general school day like the other 200,000 schools that have already done just that."
And for those of us who passed through Beach High, who loved it and hated it so dearly, who suffered and sucked the marrow out of that oddball institution on a daily basis, the prospect of a happier Hi-Tide, one with a sense of serenity in their life, is a goal to strive for and a bright future to look forward to.
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