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Making the Grade: Meditation eases final exam stress

Joanne Newell of the Center for Energy Healing in Roswell leads weekly meditation classes for students at Roswell High.
Joanne Newell of the Center for Energy Healing in Roswell leads weekly meditation classes for students at Roswell High.

It’s getting closer to that highly anticipated time of year: final exams. Just the mention of those weighty tests can conjure an assortment of anxiety symptoms.

Some students at Roswell High, however, have found a way to combat the sweaty palms and nail-biting tension by attending weekly meditation sessions during the school day.

Special Education teacher Valerie Pettit started the program four years ago for her students, but last year the chance to take a quiet break was offered to the entire student body.

“We offer it now during two study halls, and usually around 40 students show up,” Pettit said. “That number usually grows as we get closer to exams at the end of the semester. There are still some who think it won’t make any difference, but the students who do come are starting to share with friends that it works. Meditation can make them more productive and teach them how to just be — they don’t always need to be productive.”

Pettit herself started meditating 10 years ago, and she shares her story with the students.

“I tell them I didn’t know if it could help me,” she admits. “But it really does work. Even just taking deep breaths in and out is helpful. I think so many kids are looking for quick fixes that they don’t give it time. And this is something they can do with no other tools, at any time and in almost any place.”

The 20-minute sessions are led by Joanne Newell, a Milton resident who runs the Center for Energy Healing in Roswell. She welcomes students and staff to take a break and refocus each Thursday.

“When I first started four years ago, it took a few weeks to get the students into the rhythm, but eventually they were able to mediate and relax for 20 minutes, even with noise in the hallways and bells going off,” she said. “There’s a lot of benefit to learning how to meditate in an environment you’re in all the time. It teaches you to meditate around the noise.”

Using relaxation and focusing techniques to calm nerves and redirect energy has found loyal followers among initially skeptical teens.

“To be honest, my first impression was that meditation isn’t real,” said junior Luc Prothero. “The only thing going through my head was, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ But it did. I’m usually really antsy during the day, but after meditating, that didn’t happen the rest of the day. I also had a test two periods later and got my best grade in that class all year. It was mind-blowing.”

Junior Mallie McKenzie started attending the meditation sessions this term after hearing from friends that it was interesting.

“I was curious and not expecting much to happen,” she said. “Usually I’m pretty irritated at school, but on Thursdays after meditation, I get in a better mood. I feel relaxed and calm; it changes my mood throughout the day, and that really took me by surprise.”

Newell has heard similar comments in the formal feedback she’s collected, and she’s buoyed that the sessions are making a difference.

“Stress is not specific to race, gender or intelligence, and every student at some point experiences some level of it,” she said. “They have so many expectations on them to do well and be perfect, but at least during these sessions, they have permission to get into a relaxed state.”

Information on Roswell High: Details about the Center for Energy Healing: