Mindfulness Positivity Project (copy)

Students at Cheyenne Mountain High School practice a guided visualization exercise during a Mindfulness and Positivity Project exercise in 2019.

I would like to invite you to look past the headlines for a moment to gain a more accurate view of what is taking place inside the building at 1200 Cresta Road. Beyond the narrative of mental illness and suicidal ideation, lies the human capacity for growth and resilience. Behind the stories of political divide, technology addiction, and controversy exists the strength of the human spirit.

To be clear, the mental health issues widely reported in schools are real, the anxiety rates, the perception of loneliness, depression, and students who cannot spend a moment without their phone — none of those are to be discredited or ignored. But these alarming statistics only tell a part of the story.

For 20 years, I have had the privilege of working alongside the greatest group of students in my career at Cheyenne Mountain High School. In this time, I have learned the true meaning of persistence, growth and kindness. The science of well-being is clear — living a meaningful life filled with gratitude, connection, compassion and beauty requires an intentional practice. Taming a brain hardwired to focus on chaos and danger, necessitates discipline to put down our technology and embrace a deep, intimate connection with the moments of our lives. At CMHS, we focus on mindfulness and positivity. Our students have taken these practices to heart.

I will never forget when Mike, as a freshman, shared the tragic circumstances that left him without parents. After being rescued from a French orphanage by his sister, he has committed his life to making his father proud by becoming a doctor. He spends his free time, when he is not working, studying for the MCAT and volunteering at the hospital. Mike is always willing to dive into a discussion about Victor Frankyl or the latest research about surviving trauma. I admire his courage, envy his bravery, and often wonder how I would fare in similar circumstances.

Hope does not share much about her injuries, her learning challenges, or the loss she has suffered. She has risen to near the top of her class without any excuses — she grinds every single day. Then she does it again. And she is funny. Really funny. Leave you in stitches funny.

You probably do not know that Raglan’s week begins with a 4:45 a.m. alarm and consists of eight swim practices and five Advanced Placement classes. While his academic and athletic resume is nothing short of spectacular, it is his kind, humble demeanor I will remember most. Harvard is getting one of our best.

When I asked Dori why she had taken the time to learn most every name in the school, she responded, “I want people to feel welcome here. I want them to love this place like I do.” Her kindness is not by accident, it is an intentional practice. Her impact on this community during this pandemic has been immeasurable. Kindness is indeed cool.

Michasia is an amazing singer and an even better person. While you cannot miss her talent and infectious energy, you will not easily see the work she does behind the scenes managing anxiety and self-doubt.

Sofia has packed her schedule with every extracurricular opportunity possible. Along her journey she mustered up the courage to seek professional help, confront the stigma of “weakness” and take agency over her mental health. She now sets aside time to savor the people and events that make life worth living.

These stories of human triumph and resilience are not outliers. They do not make the front page or pick up steam on Twitter. They also do not happen by accident. Here at CMHS, we value the positive impact mindfulness and positivity have on our student community. At the core, mindfulness and gratitude might seem a simple practice, however, in reality, it is the most important intentional work we can do with this one precious life we have been given.

Jeff Kenefsky teaches economics and Mindfulness, Positivity and Well-Being at Cheyenne Mountain High School. He is also a co-founder of The Mindfulness and Positivity Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students and teachers live long, healthy, happy lives. Find out more at www.mindfulandpositive.org.

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