Welcome to The Mindful FIRE Podcast, where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond. I’m your host Adam Coelho and I’m so glad you’re here.
On today’s episode of the podcast, I’m joined by my new friend JG Larochette, the founder of Mindful Life Project, a direct service mindfulness non-profit teaching mindfulness and compassion to over 11,000 kids across 25 schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the US.
I am so blown away by the work that JG and Mindful Life Project are doing to support young people with mindfulness and compassion, that I’ll be matching all donations up to $500. And because of the generosity of my employer, Google, my $500 will be matched as well, effectively tripling the impact of your donation. All donations are tax deductible and will go directly to bringing mindfulness and compassion to more students across the country.
Please follow these instructions to ensure JG knows how many donations they received that will be matched by me (up to $500) and which will also be matched by Google as well.
Steps to 3X your donation to Mindful Life Project online:
If you prefer to mail a check:
In today’s episode JG shares how he came to mindfulness in his own life after finding himself burned out after teaching for a number of years in the Richmond public schools, which he absolutely loved. And he shares how finding the practice inspired him to bring it into his classroom and how he, together with his third graders came up with the idea that grew into the Mindful Life Project.
JG also goes into detail about the two main programs Mindful LIfe Project offers, RISE UP and Mindful Community, which bring age-appropriate and culturally relevant mindfulness and compassion programs to students, teachers and parents at each of their partner schools.
He and I also discuss the challenges facing our education system, the differences between traditional and charter schools and his vision for how we can come together to create a more student and parent centered education system for everyone!
I really enjoyed this conversation with JG Larochette and am inspired by the work he and Mindful Life Project are doing. If you’re passionate about the power of mindfulness and want to support their work with children in schools, please consider donating whatever you can to Mindful Life Project
Full Show Notes - https://bit.ly/3hlhfuq
More Inspiring Interviews - https://bit.ly/3hFqIf5
More Guided Meditations - https://bit.ly/2TBmBJg
Each Tuesday I release a guided meditation or inspiring interview on the topics of mindfulness and financial independence. Subscribe for future meditations and episodes!
Adam Coelho: Welcome to the mindful fire podcast where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond I'm your host, Adam Coelho. And I'm so glad you're here. On today's episode. I'm joined by my new friend JG Larochette, the founder of the mindful life project, which teaches mindfulness and compassion in 25 schools serving 11,000 students
JG Larochette is a graduate of St. Mary's college of California, where he received his bachelor's of science in psychology and was a four year scholarship player on the baseball team. After graduating, he felt a deep desire to work with children in underserved Bay Area schools. He started his career in education in 2002 , as a Playworks site coordinator in Oakland and the Richmond. There he created a deep bond with the students and families, which inspired him to want to take the culture and climate he created with the youth on the playground, into innovating what classroom [00:01:00] education could be.
In over nearly a decade of teaching JG learned so much from his students and community and saw how powerful and resilient they were. He however, saw the huge need for schools, to prioritize mental and emotional health and the lack of resources and programs available to low income schools.
In 2012 he and his third graders at Cornado elementary school in Richmond, California went through a transformative six months of mindfulness, expressive arts, yoga, and performing arts that led JG to leaving the classroom to start the educational, nonprofit mindful life project.
In the last nine years, he has led mindful life project into being the biggest direct service mindfulness nonprofit in the country. Mindful life project is highly regarded for its innovative direct service programs that have been created specifically to support students who have been exposed to high levels of adverse childhood experiences.
JG brings a passion for providing youth deeply impactful services and programs that [00:02:00] support students and educators mental and emotional wellbeing so that the students can thrive socially and academically, both at school and beyond.
And he shares the impact this has been having on student teachers and families.
JG also shares his vision for the mindful life project, which has grown incredibly over the last nine years to reach over 11,000 students.
I was so blown away by the work that JG and mindful life project are doing. That I'll be matching up to $500 of donations that come in through this podcast.
And so if you'd like to support the work that JG and mindful life project are doing in schools, I invite you to please donate whatever you can by visiting mindfullifeproject.org and clicking on the donate button. Make sure to put mindful fire podcast or Adam in the comments section, because I'm going to be matching up to $500 to support the work that JG and mindful life project are doing for our young people.
On top of that, because of the generosity of my employer, Google , I'll be able to get my portion matched as [00:03:00] well by Google. And so any money that you donate to the mindful life project, will be essentially tripled, tripling the impact that we can have on young people in schools around the country.
You can find the full show notes for today's episode, including ways to get in touch with JG and ways to donate to the mindful life project, which will be matched by me up to 500 Mindful fire.org/ 35
Let's jump into today's episode.
JG. Welcome to the mindful fire podcast. I'm so glad
to have you here.
JG Larochette: It's awesome to be here, Adam. Thanks for having me.
Adam Coelho: I'd love to have you start by sharing with the audience a little bit about yourself and what you're up to
JG Larochette: in the world.
Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity for having me here, Adam and grateful to connect with you. A kindred spirit. I can feel it. So mindful life project is a nonprofit that I started nine years ago [00:04:00] this week because I was a classroom teacher in Richmond, California, and I love being a teacher. I loved it beyond words and growing up in Berkeley, just seven miles away from Richmond, there was all the media and all the portrayals of Richmond of being a place that's not safe that has a lot of violence.
And I actually found Richmond to be a deep sense of belonging when I got there, the kids and the families just welcomed me with open arms. And so long story short, I was a playground coordinator. So I organized recess games on campuses and Oakland and Richmond. I was trying to make sure that playground is a fun, safe place to be.
I was working for organization called play works. And as I developed as a coach on the playground, I saw that a lot of kids didn't wanna go. They're like, I want to stay on the playground with you. And I figured, yeah, of course you do, because class is a little harder, but the messages they told me were really a little different.
They were saying, I don't feel like I belong in class. I feel like I'm stressed out all the time in there. I don't feel like I'm being heard or valued. And this was a message that I was getting a lot from kids. [00:05:00] And in that experience of hearing kids, I was like, wait, What if I took this idea of having fun sense of belonging, making learning experiences enjoyable, like I was using the playground, let me do in the classroom.
So I became a classroom teacher, third, fourth, fifth grade. And in that experience, I found myself really excited about creating safe, trusting, loving spaces, making sure that every kid knew that they were unconditionally cared for. And I would not judge them based off anything, but their authentic self in that way.
But in our community and the systems by which we live in this country, a lot of our kids have generational trauma, lack of resources, not enough supports, families are overwhelmed. And so there was a lot of trauma happening. And so I pushed myself at him for years trying to keep on being a great teacher.
And that led to some big burnout in 2011, anxiety and depression. And that anxiety, depression riddled me to a point where I didn't even know if I was alive. To be honest. I remember not sleeping, not functioning, like still show up to school because I was told I have to be teaching,
it felt like [00:06:00] a fog that I just didn't even know what it was.
My kids that you had a lot of trauma as well, and that's trauma and my suffering was combustible. And so there was daily experience where kids were dysregulated. I was dysregulated. And so that led me to try to find any way to heal. And after many months of real deep suffering, I found mindfulness and mindfulness saved my life.
So with the third graders that year, I came back with a practice. I was like, Hey, I learned something can't you see I'm feeling better. I want to teach it to you too. And so Mindful Life Projectwas born nine years ago and we're a nonprofit directly serves 11,000 kids now. So I left the classroom and started this work 32 amazing, talented, diverse people that provide mindfulness based social, emotional learning to schools, vulnerable schools in the bay area, 25 schools in the bay area.
And we do a lot of work at the statewide and nationally. Now it's really about creating programming. That's direct service that empowers young people, empowers teachers through mindfulness gets families, mindfulness as well. And it's been a journey, but I must say as like the full circle of the ninth year right now [00:07:00] as a classroom teacher, I didn't want to delegate cause I wanted to make that space exactly how I want as the classroom teacher now to think of how I've been able to support other leaders and people in my organization and beyond to make sure that mindfulness is spreading and education is beyond humbling.
Adam Coelho: Yeah, that's incredible. And congratulations on nine years. Amazing. Amazing.
So when you say direct service mindfulness, what exactly does that mean? And what does that look like? Practically with
JG Larochette: the kids?
Yeah. So direct source mindfulness is the opposite of train the trainer.
So most of what we see in education, and even beyond that, but especially in education systems is that we put a day long professional development for teachers tell them this is a new thing they're going to teach maybe two or three days, if we're lucky, and then they have to teach it themselves and hold that curriculum.
If it's math, science, reading, music, social, emotional learning, direct service means that we're on school grounds and our 25 partner schools in the bay. With a [00:08:00] coach, that's our employee. That's providing two main programs for students. And they're there from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, either virtually this year in the pandemic, but obviously we're not, we're in person and we're becoming part of that school culture.
And so what we're doing is we're teaching two programs, one called Raza, which is our flagship program. When I was a teacher, one of the things that came up a lot from kids was I don't want to go to anger management. I don't want to go to the counselor. I feel like I'm being labeled as a bad kid. I don't want to have this stereotype of who I am and that I'm a problem.
So when I started talking to my former students and my youth that year in 2011, what I actually thought was they still wanted that small group. Intensive, 25, 30 kids in the class. They want to grow, but they also wanted it to be a mixed group. So in mindful, I project rise up program kids that are suffering the most because of generational trauma or suffering the most cause of trauma in their lives are the ones who were pushed out of school systems, detentions, [00:09:00] referrals, suspensions, expulsions. They actually need to be brought closer into the school environment.
And so that's what rise up really became was five kids per grade level that we pull out a class for 45 minutes, teaching mindfulness with yoga, expressive arts and performing arts, specifically mindful hip hop and creating these resources. So the kids that need it the most, as well as three high achievers per grade level or building nonjudgmental communities.
So that's our first flagship program. And what we saw at them was that we took kids out of class for 45 minutes. We built compassion and care through a mindful skills, teaching the mindful skills on a weekly basis. Through the other modalities, there was a lot of empowerment, a lot of behavioral change.
And most importantly, there was a lot more compassion to self and compassion to their peers, but we take them back to class in that first few months, and far too often, the kids would go to class and something would trigger that fight flight freeze response. It might've been another kid looking at them away.
Wait a minute. Teacher's voice. It might've been just [00:10:00] something that. And so I went to the drawing board late nights in 2012, thinking what can we do to really then add another direct service element that creates a community of compassionate mindfulness, but also helps teachers versus makes teachers have to do something.
So he created mindful community, which is our second main program. we pushed into every classroom at a school teaching mindfulness based, social, emotional learning in a very culturally relevant, very engaging, very fun way. And that is our program that reaches every kid in every teacher's in the room.
And they start to understand the practice, build a practice of vocabulary, and then they get trained in it as well. And so we also added now in the last couple of years, mindfulness for teachers, weekly mindfulness for families in Spanish and English weekly to really build a mindful and compassionate school community with our partners.
And then the train, the trainer model. We also do some of that, but we see implementation rates, Adam and low-income vulnerable communities. When we put a curriculum in those communities, the teachers burn out teacher turnover, principal turnover, curriculums don't last, very long. [00:11:00]
Mindfulness is transformational is relational. So we want to make sure that's being held by the person who has a passion for it versus oh, we teach my plus the kids because kids need it. It's actually, no, we teach mindfulness to each other because we all need it.
Adam Coelho: Yeah, absolutely. That's always been something that's stood out to me. A lot of these organizations, train the trainer. I think that's the model of mindful schools and that's great. But like you said, teachers don't need another thing to do.
They got plenty going on, especially this year. And so yeah, just giving them another thing to do it's not really going to be the key.
So it sounds like this rise up program is kids that maybe are acting up a little bit or, would traditionally be labeled as a bad kid, which like you said, nobody wants to be labeled a bad kid and you're just creating a self fulfilling prophecy by doing that type of stuff.
And so pulling them closer. And it sounds like group of five kids has some high achieving students in it as well.
JG Larochette: A great memory. I have one of my [00:12:00] students saying, Hey, I've been in classrooms and this was first and second grade for the student. Where I'm trying to be present and pay attention to the lesson.
And when kids misbehave, all the attention goes to that kid, but I don't want attention too. She said, this is amazing moment. I remember sitting with her and we're talking as a group about if we create, so the students now we're playing with from this room 18 at my school, Coronado elementary school in Richmond, what if we created an organization?
And what would the programs look like? And what would the name of the organization? And that day she said something that really stood out to me. And also then I started talking to the kids who had been sent to anger management class in my group. And I talked to them about like, why don't you like it?
I feel like you're resisting. When you called in there, we come back, you seem very upset. What's going. I was like they said every time it feels like we're just the bad kids that need to have, get help. And we are going to be, and I was like, what if we actually create both sides?
First of all, we all have all different needs. Behavioral stuff is basically just representing that we need more attention, need more care, more guidance, [00:13:00] and we need time to heal and the kids who are struggling, you guys need to be able to be with peer groups where there's no judgment. Mindfulness is paying attention to present without judgment.
But guess what? We call anger management class. That's already judging a kid. You got anger problems. You need to go there. And that moment, like you said, that self fulfilling prophecy for me was horrible. And one of the reasons I burned out was because I saw young people in my school or in the community who would be labeled in kindergarten.
Oh, don't have him, or don't have her because she's such a problem. And that would break my heart. And then when they had classes like they're amazing. They're incredible. They're my heroes. So whatever these other folks were saying, the kid also leaned into so if you're being called and I've heard all kinds of things, but if a kid's being called something by adults, that kid's going to be like, that's who they are.
So what we did was create a community where the kids who are high achieving and kids were struggling, both know that they're both belonging and they're both belonging beyond belonging that it's not about if you're bad or good, that's not even a thing. Kids can't be bad, right. Kids are [00:14:00] representatives of what's around them.
So maybe the systems, maybe there's unhealthy humans, maybe there's reaction there's trauma. But first of all, there's no such thing as bad. And so then the next piece is like, how do we create community? And so that was this idea of in the playgrounds kids who have behavioral issues, usually hang out with kids, with behavioral issues, kids who are doing well academically, hang with that with the kids.
And I think what if we built this program where about 40 50 kids on a school campus are seeing us twice a week in group and then becoming leaders together in the community. So that way they're, front-loaded the mindfulness. When they're in class, they're participating and the best thing, Adam, not to go too long, but the best.
Within six to eight weeks. Usually we'll bring someone from the school or a visitor, to a rise up group and say, here's a group of eight kids. And they walk out like, I don't know who are the behavioral issues. And we're like, exactly, because we create a safe space, a trusting space, a space where belonging is always there and you provide mindfulness skills and compassionate skills with that.
Kids are going to be kids. They're going to be powerful and be resilient. They're going to be connected. [00:15:00] So that's the beauty of the work.
Adam Coelho: Yeah. That's incredible. I really liked that element to it. I would assume the high achieving kids want to be involved because it's a special thing and they get that attention that they're craving.
JG Larochette: Yeah. That's a good point. So I remember when we first started rise up at three schools. So it was Coronado was where I taught. The school district said, we won't hire you to be on special assignment, mindful schools that we're going away from direct services. And I was like, this is my community.
I got to figure it out. So no budget, no business plan. I jumped out of the classroom and what basically happened. I took three schools, the school I was at and the two nearest schools and said, we're going to provide rise up programming. This is brand new, give us a chance. And the principals were all for it.
And we started rise up. Basically. What was really interesting is after sessions, we go back to class and I'll be walking on campus and there'll be kids saying, I want to be in mindful life. I want to be in my flip, every kid I wanted to be in mindful life, which was what I was like. Whoa. That's when I started thinking about every [00:16:00] kid and every teacher having mindful community, which is a second program, but rise up was basically the it thing.
Like kids wanted to be in it.
And we knew from the beginning, I knew that if we're going to create something special, there is no such thing. These are the kids that go to this program, because what we want is actually mindful leadership. We want them to live into their authenticity, their power, their resilience, and to really show their authentic selves.
So when we went away from this is for certain kids to actually kids were like that might be for me. That's actually, for me, like I see myself in either one of those groups and they didn't know that was the best part. Kids didn't know who the behavioral issues, selection. Maybe they initially knew that behavior issues were out there.
But we didn't say we have five kids that have behavioral issues because of trauma. We have three kids. We said, we have a program that's for all community members. And then we graduate kids, right? So once they reach some goals through half the year of the year, then they become mindful mentors and support other people and other kids can transition in.
So we have a cycle of practice and a cycle of leadership.
Adam Coelho: Yeah that's [00:17:00] amazing. And so do they apply to be in rise up or are they recommended to be in rise up? I understand the cyclical nature of it. And I think it's a beautiful thing, with the two programs complementing each other with, people coming out of the rise up with a new sense of belonging and community and connection with maybe the kids that are different than them, but now they're all mentors and they're all leaders and their example to their peers that they can then build on that and really step into that through the mindful community program.
JG Larochette: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And for us, the biggest thing was. How to do two things, how do we get kids to want to be in the program? And then that was automatic. The second piece was how do we work with systems, with a school to identify the most needed students. So what we looked at originally, Adam, was that about seven to 10% of students at those two schools needs from elementary coordinator accounted for about 85 to 90% of suspensions, 10% of [00:18:00] students, mostly African-American boys accounted for 85 to 90% of suspensions.
Wow. So we knew and I'd known it before. And unfortunately we lost some of our youth at Coronado who had gun violence, or gang involvement. And I knew like those kids and I can think of them right now. They weren't the leaders, they just were never given an opportunity to be leaders in the right way.
And so they abandoned themselves to protect themselves. And then they caught up in some situations, unfortunately, that meant that some of our kids ended up killed by gun violence. And there was a kind of a normalcy there I'll be honest, Adam, that was heartbreaking. I saw, especially one of my mentors that had been a teacher for a long time saying, JG that's going to happen.
I was like, no, I will not stay in this school. I'll not stay as a teacher. If that's the status quo that you, as an educator are expecting one of our leaders. That was where I started having a lot of anxiety, depression. I felt like the system wasn't supporting our youth and families, educators far too often, I think come in with the right reasons, but get burned out and stay in this toxicity.
And I started falling into that. I was like, wait a [00:19:00] minute. How do we really make sure that every kid knows that they have everything to deserve? And so we started creating the programming and we started seeing, all right, let's get those kids that are the highest behavioral issues.
First, what we saw, Adam was one of the main things. The kids were reacting to the environment they were in. I remember this for myself, if I was stressed out and if I was overwhelmed, we have mirror neurons and kids are gonna reflect what they see. So a lot of times I'll go into classrooms, dropping kids off and I'll see the teacher was super dysregulated.
And of course the rest of the class, especially kids with trauma are gonna be dysregulated. And so that's what we're seeing is a cycle of. And so for us, it was like, If we do the rise of programming, it's going to be beneficial, but it's not going to be a culture shift for the adults and the kids. And that's where my community really had to shift because teachers who first were like, just get my kid out of class.
Three, four months of us being in the room after time. They're like, actually I see that I need more mindfulness. I am reacting. I am overwhelmed. I am having a hard time with my emotions. And so we saw that and I think that goes back to the [00:20:00] train. The trainer model can be beneficial, especially in communities where teacher turnover is low, where teachers want to practice mindfulness around personal wellbeing first, but then want to bring mindfulness from authentic place to kids.
But that's not the majority of human beings. We've been trained to go external all the time, go internal. No, that's not. Okay. So if we really want to create systems change, we have to have direct services over time. And so those two programs really started benefiting and seeing the impact.
And then we started seeing teachers that. We didn't expect I need to do mindfulness with you after school, or families like we need some mindfulness for us. And so we start creating the programming and trainings to really develop personal mindfulness practice for adults versus train the trainer.
Adam Coelho: Yeah, I think you've really uncovered a problem with that model and as solution. You're not forcing anything on anybody. You're offering it, putting it out there and then, allowing through the rise of program and the mindful community you're letting them see, you're letting the teacher see you're inviting them in. And then you have [00:21:00] offerings where they can then practice themselves. The families can practice. And then I imagine when the teachers. Start to practice. They just want to do it more and bring it more and more into the curriculum.
JG Larochette: You're right on. We were data driven. We're always evaluating our impact. And one of the things we saw in Richmond specifically when we first started and then in Oakland, and as we started growing our work in different communities, there's a lot more social, emotional learning curriculum out there, which is a great thing.
However, what we started doing is analyzing our school partners and asking what percentage of your teachers are using that curriculum. So it's mindfulness based, social, emotional learning curriculum, or just social, emotional learning curriculum. And what we started getting in those early three, four years was about 30, 35% of teachers were using the curriculum because why?
We're overwhelmed. We have math reading, writing science standards. We just don't have time for it. Okay. Fair enough. But the other thing is. I don't know about your experience Adam, and I'm happy to talk about my experience, but it takes dedication, daily [00:22:00] practice to work on emotional intelligence and mindfulness.
It, for me was not a one day, two day thing. It took months and actually years. Especially in the first year I had such tremendous growth in 2011 to 2012 in that year where if I wouldn't have that transformational personal experience, I wouldn't be able to teach it well, and I wouldn't build him body well, and I'm not perfect.
I'm 10 years later, I missed a day of mindfulness since then. But the key is we can't expect teachers to be trained in something like emotional intelligence. Mindfulness compassion and then teach it to kids without deep self-mastery. And there is that need for teachers to be modeled it for long periods of time.
Sometimes a year, sometimes it takes a year for our teachers to see it in front of them weekly. But we've seen in the last few years, around 87% of teachers that we push into their classroom, we train them on our teacher's manual. So small lessons that can come in our [00:23:00] work, 87% of teachers are using it on an average of six times a week.
So look at that 35% we talked about originally. Now we're talking about 87% and one dosage with us in front of the class. So what we're looking at is actual consistency of practice, implementation integration. But that takes a year, two years of partnering.
And then the key is how much longer teachers there. So some of our schools I'll be honest. We have a couple schools. 85 to 90% of teachers from a few years ago are not there anymore. The principal's not there anymore because our broken education system is the problem, our broken, systemic oppression and racism and implicit bias and all the things that happen in our society.
We still aren't at an equitable place, even close equity plays in education, especially in California, where we're like 40th and spending per pupil in the country where the 13th biggest economy in the world. But our education is 40th in the country and spent, right? So there's a lot of issues, but underneath it, we look at mental, emotional of being asked to be the foundation of the school experience for everybody students, teachers, [00:24:00] admin.
Adam Coelho: Totally agree. Let's talk a little bit more about the challenges that exist within the education system and society at large that are causing our kids to suffer.
What have you seen there?
JG Larochette: Yeah. It's a place close to my heart, Adam, in terms of what I've seen in the systems. So in education specifically when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties in Berkeley, California, where there was a really whole child approach, it was project-based learning. It was beyond reading, writing and math personally, Adam, I actually couldn't read until I was in third grade, but in kindergarten and first grade and second grade that wasn't such a force. I became a third grade teacher. So I always laugh about that. Like I couldn't read until third grade really, and then became a third grade teacher.
And I say that because it was so important, it project-based learning whole child learning. It was beyond your test scores or your reading level. My teachers cared for me unconditionally. I never felt in those five years , five year old to a ten-year-old , [00:25:00] I never felt like something was wrong.
But in the last 20, 30 years, we've gone so far from whole child education, especially in the most vulnerable communities. So with no child left behind in the Bush era where it's you have to score this, or you're this, you score this, your funding is, it's just there was so much pressure put on schools and districts to achieve academically, which created the exact effect of the stress response.
So kids with trauma kids with stress teachers, with stress, teachers of vicarious trauma are now being pressurized like a diamond, right? To then produce academic results, which we know the science of the brain. It's going to go right to our amygdala it's going to right to our fight flight freeze response system.
Cortisol adrenaline is going to pump it through our system. And my students didn't have that in my class because I didn't follow that. I said boys and girls, I'm going to teach you, you're going to teach me, we're going to create, we're going to do lots of projects. So I was a little bit like a rebel, right?
[00:26:00] A lot of the classrooms across the district I was teaching in, there was this toxicity of stress. This toxicity of like you are reading or writing or math. And if you're not, we're going to keep pushing it until you're doing it. So education has really lost a compass. Within that, we also know that low-income vulnerable communities, generationally have been disserved and underserved.
So there's already this anger and frustration and rage to the system from families that have been Bennett or immigrants, families are coming into the system, there is this kind of feeling of we are not doing you what you deserve. And so I think what we've seen over the last 20, 30 years is a really strong perpetuation of divide and conquer what this country, has greatness in is its diversity.
It's ability to be the true American we lean into where diversity is welcomed, where you bring in the power, our communities, and bring equity. But what we see in education [00:27:00] is a continuation of colonization. The continuation of underserving of underrepresented, of not looking at systemic change, but status quo.
And so I think where we're at now, right in terms of education and systems, is that most people in the systems, I always say hard on systems, soft on people. Most people in the systems are just doing their very best within the framework that's there. But the problem is the framework that's there is completely.
Not working, especially in our underserved low income communities of color. As a generalization or traditional schools are not looking to innovate and change the systems. They're pretty much staying with their bin. And then now last but not least is really the charter movement versus the traditional public school movement.
So I just got the name, it, my kids go to school here in Richmond. Califonia. At school that I chose. There's bilingual education. There's better opportunities than a mile or two away.
And so I think why I'm so passionate of making sure that [00:28:00] mindfulness compassion work transform schools from the inside out is because in order for us to transform education, in order for us to innovate education, we have to be in our prefrontal cortex. We have to be in our human brain. And so what I see on a daily basis is when teachers and admin are given an authenticity and power to do what they need to do with their kids.
And when kids are able to use their voice and feel a sense of belonging and where family voice is centered, we're able to really create an educational experience that really is grounded in what we know is best. And I am lucky to say that we have some partners are doing amazing work doing that. I just think the systems in general, aren't helping that at all, but they're just doing it because they want to fight through the system.
Adam Coelho: Yeah. That's really interesting.
I can definitely relate to what you're saying about, how the brain works . When we are in that flight flight freeze response, when we have cortisol running through our veins, our prefrontal cortex shuts down.
So we can't learn. So if our kids are in that environment and the teachers are in that environment, [00:29:00] nothing's going to get done. And it's just going to perpetuate the outcomes that the system is continuing to produce. There's a lot there.
I'd love to hear a little bit more about the charter versus public, What exactly is the landscape there and what's your perspective on it?
JG Larochette: You're trying to get me in trouble at him. No, I'm just joking. I am pro excellent schools for children. I'm not, pro-charter, I'm not anti traditional. I've given my career to being in the traditional schools that need the most systems change.
I think the biggest issue is that there's broken systems in the traditional public school and there's broken systems and some of the charters. However, I also think that politically the anti-charter movement is putting a lot of energy from our traditional public schools, a lot of political power from our teachers' unions and from communities to really go anti-charter versus innovative traditional. So my main concern is that I see amazing schools, both in traditional and charter, [00:30:00] and I see challenges on both sides. And so what we need to do, and this is what I meant by divide and conquer.
What we really need to do is make sure that traditional public schools are held accountable and they look at innovative systems change. We need to make sure that charter schools are held accountable and were looking for innovative change. It's student centered family centered community center.
The problem that I see is just like any political issue it's divisive and it's also deflective. So we're going to put tons of money into fighting charters and then also like for me, I taught at the traditional school in south Richmond. My school did what we needed to do to create a transformational change.
And once our test scores got high enough, cause we went whole child. Then we focus as a school, not individuals, but as a school testing, testing, testing, and then guess what our scores went down next door, about half a mile away. We had a charter school, but I didn't even really know about. And their test scores have continually gone up year after year because they never gave up the foundation, whole child, community centered [00:31:00] options for learning multi-layered approaches.
And that's what I saw. So I saw a traditional school that went up and down for the last 15 years. But how in the world are we blaming charters for our disservice in public education for 50, 60 years? And you could argue hundreds of years because our communities of color have never gotten an education that really is centered on them.
We have seen the system be dysfunctional. We've seen be broken education system. It's not because of charters, but what we do is we start projecting and political sizing, everything, and then everything is more toxic.
So what I'm saying is I don't believe that one or the other's the right solution. I think the right solution is all of us coming together and saying, we're going to innovate education and we're going to change education to truly be equitable to truly based on our students' voices and truly based on our, what our family's needs are.
And so I think we need to get to that point, our society on multiple layers of saying, Hey, let's join in. So we can really create a society we can really be proud [00:32:00] of.
Adam Coelho: Yeah, totally agree.
And just for my, my ignorance on the issue what is the charter school?
JG Larochette: Yeah, it's a good question. There's different kinds of charter schools, but they're all from the ones we know. They're all public. They're under the district, but they're not overseeing them exact same way. So basically the school, a charter school has to go through a process with the school district to get approval.
Then it's creating a school. In our community. I'll say Richmond College Prep is an amazing charter that was founded with a Montessori preschool, with former educators from the community. And they've grown an organization. That's now TK through eighth grade providing the amazing education, I just mentioned.
However so they get the money from the, for per pupil and they also can fundraise just like any other traditional schools. So all schools are 5 0 1 C3, but charters do seem to do a much better job at fundraising outside of state and federal money to support their [00:33:00] infrastructure and system.
There's more autonomy at a charter school. In some charter schools, there's still teachers unions, but there's more autonomy over hiring. There's more autonomy over systems change. There's more autonomy about spending. So if you look at like community schools, what we were hoping to see with traditional schools that are given the amount of money they deserve, and then the schools themselves allocating the funding towards what they see their students really need. Unfortunately, in big districts. And especially in traditional dysfunctional districts, the money goes put into the general fund that there's all this spending. And often the schools don't get to use the money for what they see the needs at and there's a lot of things there.
So charter schools are are public schools. They're non private, and they're very different also in the way they come.
Some, like I said, highly disorganized. Some have investments and people running it that don't have much to do with education.
But from my experience, that's minority just like in traditional public schools, there's tons of dysfunction. There's a lot of issues, but a lot of traditional closed schools are doing excellent work [00:34:00] it's that we also just need to look at the systems that best work, right? So if we create traditional schools where they had autonomy was spending autonomyof choice, autonomy of being able to create a school that they feel is their community school.
I think that's where you have to go. And I think charters have a better opportunity of doing that right now within the broken system. I think we just gotta make sure traditional public schools, we give principals, teachers, families and the student's voices, the power to create what they want.
Adam Coelho: Got it. That makes sense.
So let's transition, what do you see as the solution to these problems? And talk a little bit about, how the pandemic may have changed the priorities. They're just just an enormous question.
JG Larochette: That's a huge question. I love it though. So I think a couple things pop in my mind and especially from the lens of mindfulness and compassion and truth telling, I think we have to get politics out of education.
Far too often politics and special interests. Are controlling the narratives and controlling the resources. So I think when we look at like decision-making and school districts, we look at the way school districts have state dysfunctional. All it takes. Adam is a [00:35:00] few people that are benefiting from the status quo or benefiting from being in a position of power to keep a community away from transformation.
And so I think politics and school boards and the way, at least we're starting to see some shifts there, in our communities here. There's civil rights lawsuits saying if you're going to have school boards, you have to actually have school boards represent all the communities. So now we're districted right.
So we have a school board member from each major community. So that's wonderful. That's a great step forward. The next thing after we look at getting politics out of it. It means that we're going student first. And that's why mindfulness compassionate is so important, right? Cause when we start to create education that student-centered and a deep sense of belonging, no matter what the zip code, whatever their sense of, what's happening in the world, they understand that they have all that they already need inside of them to be able to be powerful.
I think that sense of belonging comes when we look at creating structures and systems and putting people in places where we're not perpetuating stress, we're not perpetuating this [00:36:00] desire, to say these are kids who were well, behind, or they need more and more academics. Like what we need as a society is to heal.
We need to repair it. We need to listen and we need to be able to be fully present. And the real solution that I think gets us into systems change is actually building our inner capacity to see what's really true inside of us, the present with compassion and then build in unity based off of missions and visions that are student and family centered.
So we see that happening at Mindful Life Project. We're so honored, right beyond humbled to see schools, both traditional and non-traditional that are really trying their very best in a broken education system. And they're succeeding in many ways. And what we see is that. Thriving communities are places where everyone is seen, valued, [00:37:00] heard, and loved.
There's no other rink. There is a community. So I truly believe that if we're going to change our society, it's going to come from a deep, self-awareness a deep social awareness, a connection to compassionate empathy at where we need to be an equity and where we need to look at investing and autonomy and voice of who's making decisions.
And when we start getting there and we see in the microcosm of a school ecosystem or a district ecosystem or a city, we got to make sure that this isn't a fad, that mental and emotional wellbeing through a social justice lens is a must have, because if we're not doing that, then, like you said earlier, We can't learn.
We actually can't even function as humans properly. So we need to get to a place where we're in our prefrontal cortex, activating it, , growing attention , having tough conversations, making tough decisions and not allowing power and greed to take over. It's gotta be students first. And that's where I [00:38:00] see us as an organization helping create this innovation of transformation from the inside out.
Adam Coelho: Yeah. But, how do you get politics out of education when you need to convince politicians to do that?
JG Larochette: I love it. . I love it. . So I think there's multilayers . I think the way I talk about politics is more around the self-preservation right. So if you're a city council member or a school board member, you're the governor, right?
You're a state assembly. What is wrong with politics is that most times the self-preservation is so real that then the decision-making is from a place of self preservation, not community building. And so that's the major problem. So when I say take the politics out, it's actually what politics is about that you're serving your community.
You're serving those that voted you in versus getting caught in. Oh I got this special interest to invest in my campaign. I have to do these things. So I think what I want to say is that systems change [00:39:00] happens when deep awareness gets with tipping. So if we have special interests involved, but they start losing power because we're actually doing with student and family centered based off of student family voice that will happen, but it has to happen from a place of deep inquiry.
And I know the only place we can do deep is when we look internally first ability to see what's really true internally, and then how late to our external world. And I think getting politics out is different than politicians. Politicians need to stay in their lane of being politicians and serving their communities.
And when they do that, that we've seen that work. We're seeing it across the country. We've seen grassroots, amazing campaigns of people who are speaking on behalf of their communities. And I think that's what we're going to see shifts in the society where we go away from special interests self-preservation toxicity and power and we start making the shift towards we, not me. And that me without we is not true. We, without me [00:40:00] is not true. As Dr. Dan Siegel says, it's mwe right? Mwe were all interconnected. We have to look out for each other's best interests.
I think that has to happen at a lens of as white community members, as white people, even myself, I'm the only person born in this country from my family, but I still have a duty to make sure that what I benefited from doesn't happen to my son.
That because he's a white male, he's not given all of these kinds of opportunities that a black or Latino male wouldn't get. So I think that we have to be really away from self preservation because when it comes down to it, we've seen politics in the last four or five years be about clinging to something that's not even true.
This desire to hold onto the America that is in the mind that person or group of people, America, that's not even real.
Adam Coelho: For me, honestly, it comes down to money in politics. The self-preservation when you are reliant on people giving you money to fund your campaign, to stay in [00:41:00] power. You very quickly forget about the constituents that you are supposed to be serving. I agree with you a hundred percent. We need to know ourselves. We need to be able to have compassion for ourselves. Being in a place of equanimity, as much as possible and have empathy for other people.
We talk about America, I love America, but I hate half of Americans, that's not a good system that we have here. And I think we really need to bring people together, I don't know how it's going to happen. And I think you're right on, the schools are the place to do that because if we can create that compassion, mindfulness, empathy into the schools, into the students and the people students are people they're going to go out.
That's how we changed this whole situation.
JG Larochette: I have hope. I have optimism. I didn't at times in my life. And I think what's beautiful about that is education is the [00:42:00] foundation of a society. And if we transform education to being about deep mental and emotional, physical wellbeing and sense of belonging, hurt people, hurt people at them.
We know that. And we will start seeing such a different approach to our human lived experience and then connection to systems change. And we see that in our young folks. Currently I can think of so many people in so many places across the country where if we let the young folks lead, the systems will be changed.
And they would create an equitable environment . Your son and my kids. We know that's a long journey, but if we're going to get there, I truly believe it's because we're building consciousness as a society, as individuals and building compassion for our own experience.
So we know that we don't have to project on anybody else. That's, self-preservation think about the politics, right? That's like the kid who got picked first for kickball who got voted in because he had enough money to get voted in. But then had a butter up to the guy who picked them first every time to get picked [00:43:00] bursts again, even though there weren't playing very well.
I think that's where we have to change things because if we're looking at politics based off of that, of course, in terms of financing campaigns, I'll ask that, but we also have to get away from people feeling that they have to do for others belong. Do what's right for all, because that's, what's gonna make you belong versus one big company or wanting to be.
Adam Coelho: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. We're solving the world's problems here at JG.
So talk to me a little bit about your vision for mindful life project.
JG Larochette: It started off with, three schools in one community and currently in nine cities with our direct services and a little over 25 schools and in Salinas Monterey, Los Angeles, Kansas city, Atlanta Stockton.
So we've been growing this very organically. We know there's only a handful of, even that have direct service mindfulness organizations in the country. Most of where mindfulness education has gone is train the trainer or an app or online. We do believe that an app or online things are good supplemental supports, [00:44:00] but we also know that I wasn't changed because of curriculum.
I wasn't changed because of something else. I was changed because I learned mindfulness from some powerful individuals from Megan Cowen that was at mindful schools who took me under her wing to Vinnie Ferraro to a bunch of other folks, including Ruchika. I've been given an opportunity to learn this practice because of a connection.
I had Jack cornfield do a Monday and I talked my first mindfulness experience that was like 30 minutes practice. So what we need to do is not let only a few organizations be direct service. We either need to amplify those voices, holistic life foundation, calmer choice ourselves here in the bay, mindful life.
Those can't be isolated. So we are growing, expanding base off of communities wanting us there and that's understand their community. With that being said, we are a nonprofit. So we run a very hard system. So about 35% of our overall budget is through contracts of service. We know that we're going to work in the lowest income schools.
We're not going to be [00:45:00] able to get the funding, the contracts that we could get in the middle or high income community. We know that there's a challenge. We want to grow our services to get about 50% earned revenue. Right now we're about 33, 35. That means philanthropy from foundations, individual donors.
Corporate sponsors are the other 65, 60 7%. Before the pandemic, we had a mental health crisis for our youth and our society as a whole, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris says it's the silent pandemic before the pandemic.
We're in the worst mental crisis since world war II, and we can't even know the full grasp of what's going to happen the years to come. So we're in a position right now to grow our work and scale our work significantly. And we only want to do that in strategic community-based ways. So we're looking at different areas.
We work in Salinas, Monterey, Stockton, LA Atlanta, Kansas city. We want to continue to grow and scale our direct service work because we see that first and foremost, our mindfulness coaches that are on the ground at the school sites are the transformation. Usually our coaches are from or deeply connect to the communities they work in.
Usually our students are represented because those, [00:46:00] a lot of our staff, including five of my past students have been in my flat project as an organization. They're now the coaches, they're now program manager, right? There are people who have built the organization. So I think we're in a place of scaling and growth, but we want to do it in a right way.
And we're going to need some special investments, right? We're gonna have to have some strong investments from foundations and from individuals and folks who actually are putting mindfulness in place. And that's where I think Adam has a curiosity, right? We know the head spaces, we know the calm apps.
We know these companies are now being put as billion dollar companies. I am calling everyone out. If your company is making significant profit from mindfulness, you need to invest in organizations like ours or those other ones. I mentioned because those organizations on the ground doing the work.
So my hope is that we can grow this with the people who are bringing mind, plus the masses in different ways. So we can make sure our most vulnerable communities that have such deep resilience and power actually are offer these programs.
Adam Coelho: Very interesting. Very interesting. I like that call [00:47:00] out. I think you're absolutely right. Are you having those conversations?
JG Larochette: I've met with Headspace and calm in different times. Wonderful individuals. I'm always told we can donate some apps.
And I just want to tell everyone out there you listen, if you're at Calm or Headspace or any other, Insight Timer is donating to the teachers on there, but they're also doing non-profits and they're not one of the billion dollar, mindfulness apps. They are paying me. I donate my pay that I get on that app for teaching mindfulness I donate to another nonprofit.
So I'm not only saying them, I'm calling out all the companies in the country. They're using mindfulness to increase profitability, to really dig deep right now, if you're listening, we need you, because what will happen is. That people will use the app. That's great, but it might not be enough.
I have kids now they're 18-19 that said, Hey, if it wasn't for Mindful Life Project, when I was in fifth grade, I would have got lost in drugs, alcohol and gun violence. The app is great as a supplement, but we need [00:48:00] human beings that have transformation in them that are adults on campuses to do the work.
And then we can send the apps out to the families. We have an app ourselves, but we really need to see investments in mindfulness for our communities, specifically our youth. I just hope to see that.
Adam Coelho: that's wonderful. And while we're talking about that, if people want to contribute to the mindful life project financially, how do they do that?
JG Larochette: Awesome. Thanks Adam. Yeah. So we're a nonprofit. Any donation is tax deductible. You can do it by going to our website, mindfullifeproject.org. You'll see a donate button right there. You can also send checks to us and that will be to Mindful Life Project . And I'll slowly say our address. So our office is at 124 Washington Avenue, Suite B Richmond, California 9 4 8 0 1.
And we're at the end of the year push right now, we're coming to our fiscal year, ends June 30th, any donations, small and [00:49:00] big goes a long way. Our programs are very efficient in spending and we are super proud of how far we make a dollar go in an organization. So any donation or any connection to a company, any sponsorships, any of those things we're in for it.
And right now where it's such an exciting moment where we really want to meet this moment, meet this pandemic, meet our schools to really scale our work. We know it's gonna be hard because financially the country is suffering as well, but we hope to make it happen because our committee.
Adam Coelho: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
And if you're listening to this, I'm feeling called to contribute. I would love to match any donations that come from this podcast . I would love to match anything that comes in up to $500.
JG Larochette: If you do donate online or on check, you can say mindful fire or Adam's name and we'll be able to track it.
Adam Coelho: Okay. Yeah. So we'll do that. And then I can get my match matched by Google. And so we can triple your impact. So if you're listening to this would love to be able to match your [00:50:00] donation to the mindful life project, to increase this work spread this mission of mindfulness and compassion more schools around the country.
JG Larochette: That's so awesome. Thank you so much. That means so much.
This opportunity to talk to you and be with you is such an honor. And I love what you're doing. You're spreading the practice. You're doing it from a place of really trying to make a difference in people's lives.
So it's just been an honor to be with you here today.
Adam Coelho: Likewise. Yeah. I feel like I've learned so much and we've touched on a lot of really important topics. There's so much here and it's such important work.
Let's transition now to what I call the mindful fire final four.
And the first question is...
As someone who wants to bring this to my community. My son is only two and a half, but there are schools in the area. I don't know what they're doing if they're doing anything.
Someone who's hearing this and saying, I want to do something.
I want to bring this to my community. What options are there to do this work with?
JG Larochette: I love it. Yeah. That's what we were [00:51:00] seeing. Our scale and growth is taking people in communities that want to champion this to get trained by us, to potentially start their own nonprofit if they'd like.
So we do a lot of supports for folks. We believe that our curriculum is one of the most innovative, cultural, relevant, engaging, fun curriculums out there. We have three, our TK through second grade curriculum called the brain house where kids get to know the downstairs part of the brain. So that reptilian part, the amygdala, the friends that are in the downstairs brain are angry rex, their stuffed animals and Rex is a dinosaur they're sets. A Lennar has excited us, but answer there's nervousness sear. There's bored, Brandon and the downstairs friends are always welcome. We learn how to be. But there's sometimes need help. And so the upstairs friends are the prefrontal cortex and those are also stuffed animals.
And we have breathing Bruno listening, Leslie body scanning Sammy we have name it in a sear. We have all these different characters. And so what we're tuning with our little ones and then third and fourth grade, we have our [00:52:00] upper grade curriculum is deepening stillness, practice, deepening skills, using what they learned, the first part to being relational mindfulness. How do we get this mindfulness practice out of our personal. So what we do around our world and then our middle school curriculum, super innovative. So people can come reach out to us on our website or email me at email@example.com just initials JG at mindfullifeproject.org, and we will definitely support that.
So if the folks want to do trainings and then maybe start piloting their kids' schools around this community, we've been supporting that across the country and we've seen some great success. So that's one way. And I think it's a great way. There's also great organizations out there doing other training.
So calmer choices when that pops to mind holistic life in Baltimore. So there's always great other organizations. I would try to stay away from the more online only because it's really relational and then building the internal capacity at the site.
Adam Coelho: Yeah, it sounds like the direct service mindfulness is really the key to this.
And so is your curriculum open source so to speak or do a license it to people? [00:53:00] What does that look like?
JG Larochette: That's a great question. Currently the curriculum, once we train, so there's two levels.
There's mindful educator training, which is usually five to six weeks, about an hour a week. We're working on building our own personal practice. So if someone doesn't have my infamous, that's tier one, after that, they feel really passionate about mindfulness. They have a daily practice. We go into the curriculum and training and at the curriculum train, they're given the curriculum.
And the ability to teach that curriculum to their students, if there was a desire to build a nonprofit or like we're looking right now, Having some new regions, then we work on let's see what's working. Is it better to start your own non-profit that area? Or should we have Mindful Life Project, New Jersey.
So we're in this kind of like evolution of emergence , so we look forward to looking at ecosystems and find what's the best fit for the ecosystem.
Adam Coelho: Got it. Got it. Okay. That's very cool.
So the second question is what advice would you give to someone getting started with meditation and or mindfulness?
JG Larochette: Yeah, first don't do it in silence. So I say that because I think a lot of times people think mindfulness is clearing the mind and just sitting [00:54:00] in quiet, a mindfulness meditation for me is really important to be done in community with someone else and with guidance and. Remember, like exercise. It's a hard habit to get used to and keep same thing with mindfulness.
So dedicate yourself to at least six weeks of trying to meet every day with five to eight minutes of practice guided practice with someone. Or of course, if you need to use online or an app go for it. I would look for community areas where there's meditation centers or mindfulness classes.
So you can really do in relational. And don't quit because once you get to the five, six weeks, I'm like, oh, I feel better. And then you stop doing it just like we say. It's a daily habit that we want to keep going forever because it's what we need.
Adam Coelho: Absolutely.
The third question is what piece of advice would you give to someone early on their path to financial independence?
JG Larochette: So personally, I'm coming from entrepreneur, parents. My parents were both artists working together and didn't make a lot of money every year, but they use their money really well. So I think it's about getting away from the capitalism of [00:55:00] buy buy, buy, have the most, have the best, have the newest and really trying to make sure the choices we make with money are about long-term versus short-term gratification.
And then always upping your game. I tell people this a lot, like when you're working, find a passion, find your mind, body and hearts aligned. And go after it. When you follow those three things, you're actually going to be way better at what you do and you're going to get better opportunities.
So I started my flight with no budget, no money, nothing but just this leap of faith. I was a teacher that was the highest paying, consistent job of anyone in my family. I'll say that again. As a teacher, I had the highest paying job of anyone in my family, consistent paycheck, because I come from an artist, family and other people in the family they're low income, but when you jump into something mind, body, and heart, you're going to get somewhere.
So that's my recommendation is aligned. Being conservative with money. Don't go out and try to buy the newest everything. Use it. Well, I also say real estate because that's what my parents did was buy a triplex in Berkeley, California, very low income [00:56:00] family originally, but they were able to scrounge to get a little money, to put a down payment on a triplex and rent it out to we lived downstairs.
And that was a big decision.
Adam Coelho: Yeah that's what they call a house hack in the financial independence community. So that's super cool to hear that they they did that.
The final question is how can people connect with you, your work and the mindful life project.
JG Larochette: Yeah, just check out our website, mindfullifeproject.org you'll see a contact form on there. You always can just directly email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and just reach out for anything we're here. We want to partner. We want to collaborate.
Adam Coelho: Wonderful. Thank you, JG. And. If you're listening to this go and donate to the mindful life project, and please mention mindful fire or Adam on that donation.
And I will match up to $500 of donations and JG will let me know.
Thank you again. This has been incredible. I feel like we could do another one on a million different topics. So maybe in the future, we'll do that.
JG Larochette: I would love it, Adam.
Thank you again for having me such a pleasure and honor, [00:57:00] and thanks everyone for listening.
Adam Coelho: Thanks so much for joining me on today's episode of the mindful fire podcast. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with JG Larochette the founder of the mindful life project. If you got value from today's episode, please hit subscribe wherever you're listening to this, this just lets the platforms know you're getting value from the episodes and you want to be here when we produce additional content.
And as a reminder, I'll be matching any donations to the mindful life project up to $500. And so please donate to support the great work that JG and mindful life project are doing for our young people by visiting mindfullifeproject.org, clicking, donate and mentioning mindful fire, or my name. Adam in the comments section of your donation. Any money that you donate will be tripled by me matching and Google matching as well.
You can find the full show notes for today's episode, including links to connect with JG, mindful life project, and to donate at mindful fire.org/ 35
Thanks again. And I'll catch you next time on the mindful [00:58:00] fire podcast.