Speaker: JG Larochette

Healing Children and Communities One Breath at a Time

JG Larochette is a former classroom teacher, community organizer, and mentor in Richmond, CA who is the Founder and Executive Director of the Mindful Life Project.  Since its founding in the Fall of 2012, Mindful Life Project has focused on empowering underserved students through training in mindfulness, expressive arts, yoga, and mindful hip-hop in Richmond, CA, one of the cities with historically the most generational poverty and violence in the United States.  The organization has served 15,000 students, trained hundreds of teachers, principals, Richmond Police Officers, and the local District Attorney's Office, to create a mindful and compassionate community and to foster self-awareness, impulse-control, confidence, and resiliency.

Mindful Life Project is focused on addressing deep-rooted equity and social-emotional problems that have plagued underserved, inner city schools by providing an educational experience that positively impacts the behavioral patterns of students. The organization is guided by the belief that the foundation for creating a healthy, successful, and empowered child rests on teaching social-emotional tools for developing self-control and self-esteem at an early age – which in turn can lead to fewer detentions, referrals, suspensions, and expulsions in the short term, and a decrease in delinquency, gang involvement, violent and criminal activity, and early motherhood in the long term. Mindful Life Project firmly believes that through research-based, thoughtful, and culturally competent school-based interventions, students can learn to understand and navigate their feelings, emotions, thoughts, and life experiences, which enable new, wiser responses that improve attention, learning, emotional regulation, empathy, and conflict resolution. The organization currently delivers two programs: Rise-Up (focusing on yoga, expressive arts and performing arts) and Mindful Community (focusing on mindfulness training). It has measured results of its interventions which demonstrate dramatic reductions in student suspensions, and teacher reports of significantly improved classroom behavior.

JG is a graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, where he received his B.S. in Psychology and was a 4-year scholarship player on the baseball team. After graduating from college, he felt a deep desire to work with children. The 22-year-old St. Mary’s College basketball player was shaken by the experience of filling in as a substitute at Playworks, a nonprofit that reduces playground conflict through games and physical activities. “I was shocked and ran into deep anxiety over seeing the violence and pain the kids were a part of,” he said. “How could this pain be so severe for these little kids?” When Playworks staff asked him to stay on through the end of the semester, he declined. Then, after two more sleepless nights, he caved in and took the job.

After Playworks, JG worked as an elementary school teacher in South Richmond for eight years, where he became versed in the poverty, family crises, and violence that mark the lives of Richmond’s most vulnerable youth. On his first day teaching, students threw rocks at him, pretending he was a police officer. He spent fifteen minutes of every class calming down a handful of kids in this low-income-neighborhood public school who wouldn’t follow directions or behave. He began practicing meditation and mindfulness to cope with his own stresses of teaching and supporting traumatized kids – and started seeing that the breathing techniques that helped calm his fears might work for his students too.

“I dedicated myself to living and learning through personal healing and empowerment, and I invited my students to go on this journey with me,” JG says. “I took mindfulness classes through Mindful Schools and used the curriculum in my classroom--yoga, play, art, positive hip hop, and more. The students responded immediately, and the result has been amazing. … I now realize the power of guiding kids to find power in themselves. By doing this, opportunities open for their personal success. Students understand that life’s most trying and challenging moments create strength and resiliency.”

In the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, JG saw an academic system focused on test scores without the necessary social and emotional support, which resulted in a cycle of suspension and detention and defiance. “Before we can teach a kid how to academically excel in school, we need to teach him how to have stillness, pay attention, stay on task, regulate, make good choices,” says JG. “We tell kids be quiet, calm yourself down, be still. We tell them all these things they need in the classroom, but we’re not teaching them how to do that.”

JG brings a passion for equity, social justice, peace, and community unity. In creating Mindful Life Project he wants to help provide a space where all students feel valued, empowered and loved.

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