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Schooling for Heart and Mind

2013 Wednesday, May 1

By Grace Ogden-- 

A large circle of six- to nine-year-olds sits and contemplates a jar brimming with multicolored glass hearts. “How do we want to celebrate our transcendence?” asks their teacher, and a forest of hands fills the air. The Rainbow Heart Jewel Ceremony at Oneness-Family School is underway, a practice that honors each child’s progress and affirms their benefit to the community.

Each glass heart embodies a moment when a student accomplished a personal milestone, whether in academics or social and emotional interaction. The teachers and children award the hearts when they witness a breakthrough or an act of kindness or support, happily plunking one into the jar. When it is full, the class holds a special meeting where the students acknowledge each other and plan their celebration. Trips to the zoo or the skating rink are among the favorite choices in the first through third grade classroom.

Rather than competing for grades or athletic trophies as at most schools, OFS students are motivated by what founder and head of school Andrew Kutt calls “self-transcendence.” “Children thrive when we support their curiosity and natural desire to learn. The Rainbow Heart Jewel practice directly encourages intrinsic self-motivation, a key quality for academic success and happiness in life,” Kutt says.

Any family can easily adapt the Rainbow Heart Jewel practice for use at home to promote positive growth and change. Using marbles or pebbles and a jelly jar, family members can appreciate each other’s efforts in a visible way. Some parents view the jar as a piggybank for valuable habits like self-discipline, gratitude, and conflict resolution. Doing the dishes when asked, completing homework on time, and exercising all count. Using the tool in common and periodically celebrating success also brings children and parents closer together.

Parent educator and sociologist Christine Carter, Ph.D. of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, affirms the value of such practices in her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. “Scientists have found that people practicing gratitude are considerably more enthusiastic, interested, and determined; feel 25 percent happier and are more likely to be kind and helpful,” she writes.

Such hands-on activities are a function of Oneness-Family School’s Montessori approach and its dual commitment to strong academics and fostering peace in students, families, and the world at large. “You become what you practice,” says parent Mark Hillman, a Bethesda-based investment adviser whose eighth-grader graduates next month. “OFS helps reinforce what the parents want to be too…more present, mindful and at peace,” he says.

Andrew Kutt started the school 25 years ago in Chevy Chase, MD, to provide child-centered learning with a global perspective. More than 50 nationalities are represented among the 135 students who range from age two to Grade 8. Mixed-age classrooms give students the opportunity to experience being leaders at a young age and see how their experience-based studies connect to the next level.

“Mindfulness is another key practice in our curriculum because of its impact on the brain,” says Kutt. “We call meditation ‘silent moment’ for the younger students and all grade levels practice it in class and at our weekly community meetings.” Benefits to the students include increased attention, emotional resilience, and better retention of concept learning.

Recommended by Carter and a growing chorus of neuroscientists, mindfulness meditation also has the full endorsement of Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. Author of A Mindful Nation, Ryan is the first congressman to publicly embrace the scientific findings and advocate for the broader adoption of mindfulness in schools, the military, and healthcare.

Congressman Ryan will accept an award and give a talk at Oneness-Family School on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, May 16, 2013, at 7 pm. The public is invited to this free event, which celebrates the growing culture of mindfulness across the U.S. and its role at the center of the school’s life.

Families are also invited to try the Rainbow Heart Jewel Ceremony and learn about mindfulness meditation during the school’s anniversary festival on May 18 from 10 am to 3 pm. Hugh Byrne, a senior teacher with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and former OFS parent, will teach about meditation for Grade 3 and up. Other activities include a moon bounce, a poetry slam, live music, and an art show. All events are free of charge.

“We want to share the gifts of our first quarter century for the well-being of DC area families,” says Kutt.

Grace Ogden is a contributing editor to Natural Awakenings DC. This article first appeared in the May 2013 issue of the magazine.


Louise Eriksson

Louise Eriksson '08

Studied... Advanced Art at Konstskolan Idun Lovén & Forsbergs Skola in Stockholm, Sweden

Currently... Freelancing at a Swedish VR company called Gleechi and working on illustrations for a children's book.

At OFS...I learned to believe in myself—that even if something seems impossible at first, if you stay at it, you will eventually succeed.