As the first person in his family to graduate from college, Edgar Rodriguez-Ramirez is adamant about not only working in education, but creating lasting change in the field. Edgar seeks to elevate the voices of minority youth and embolden school communities to advocate for equitable learning environments. He credits his deeply-rooted passion to educators who encouraged him at a young age to use his voice, pursue his potential, and make an impact. His career began at the lowest performing school in Oakland Unified School District, where he was met with a challenging culture. Students were facing high levels of adversity outside the classroom – some were coming to school hungry, others had lost their homes or were dealing with crime happening in their neighborhoods.
As a first-year teacher, Edgar felt the weight of these grim circumstances and was unsure where to turn. “I did not have the tools I needed in that moment to be successful,” he shares.Things took a turn when Laurie Grossman came to his classroom to teach mindfulness. “Mindfulness saved my career. It gave me the ability to see that hard times will come, but that I had the tools and the ability to center myself, be aware of what was happening, and move around chaos in a way that gave me the ability to show up the next day and be present,” says Edgar.
While his school had existing mindfulness resources, they needed a plug-and-play system that promoted consistency, and allowed new teachers to connect with the practice.
Laurie introduced him to Inner Explorer in its early stages. “We started playing Inner Explorer practices on iPod nanos,” Edgar recalls.
In a school facing so much instability, mindfulness anchored the students and teachers alike – it quickly became ingrained in the school culture. In one year of using
Inner Explorer, the number of school-wide referrals decreased by 80%.
“We did not have control over what was happening outside of school walls,” Edgar says. “But what we DID have control over were the five minutes we took to sit and practice
mindfulness, it allowed all of us to get out of crisis mode. We were then able to ask ourselves ‘what else do we need?’ and connect with our thoughts and feelings.”
Coming out of a reactive state was a key component in empowering students to reach their potential. “Kids coming into our school did not know that they could advocate for themselves – mindfulness helped them to understand their needs, and communicate about it. One student who came in had no sense of self-regulation.Through mindfulness practice, he was eventually able to ask for a mindful minute on his own,” Edgar shares.
Soon, students began seeking out leadership opportunities for themselves, including running for student council, leading mindfulness practices for peers, writing a children’s book about mindfulness, and creating mindfulness practices using their own experiences. Teachers were experiencing major benefits as well – the teacher retention rate increased from 30% to 80% after integrating Inner Explorer. Mindfulness helped school staff approach their work with love, care, and compassion.
“We wanted to find out what it meant to create systems and structures that worked for us. To us, part of that meant practicing mindfulness so that we could focus on creating a better environment for students, such as advocating for school-wide free breakfast, partnering with organizations like Toys for Tots, and helping them to raise their test scores and attendance so that they could continue their education,” says Edgar.
Currently, Edgar is the Assistant Principal at the second largest elementary in the Oakland Unified School District. He continues to utilize mindfulness as a tool to build up school communities and advocate for systemic change in education. On behalf of the Inner Explorer team, thank you Edgar, for being part of our story and working every day to positively impact the lives of your students.