With Minnesota schools closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, students and teachers are learning to navigate the world of distance-learning. The change to a new routine can be stressful, but students at St. Johns Preparatory School in Collegeville are getting help to manage that stress.
To create a calm environment for online learning, Benedictine Brothers Lucian Lopez and Richard Crawford have teamed up to offer daily morning prayer and meditation.
Brother Lucian, the campus minister, wanted to find a way to serve the Prep community through an online platform, he said. He would normally lead prayer over the intercom every day as well as pray for people in the community.
Brother Richard, the school’s theater technical director, has been working on a project to reduce stress in elementary students through mindfulness meditation as part of a graduate degree program at the University of Notre Dame.
“We put our heads together and decided to do all-school assemblies via [online meetings] in the morning for 10 minutes in which we would gather, say some prayers, do two minutes of silent meditation and discuss any announcements,” Brother Lucian said.
The school has been able to offer this type of programming since iPads were issued starting in the 2012-13 school year, said Jill Pauly, director of communications and events for the Collegeville school. “But most snow days are still simply snow days, days to help around the house and catch their breath during the hectic school year,” she said.
Starting the day off this way gives the youth and teachers some normalcy during these unusual days, Pauly said. “It really is a comfort, and it helps us all feel a part of a community.”
Everyone is feeling the social isolation, and faculty and staff are trying to think of creative ways to stay in touch and keep active, Brother Lucian said.
In addition to prayer and meditation, Brothers Lucian and Richard talk about what’s happening on campus and at the monastery. A recent topic was rituals and what a ritual is in our daily lives, Pauly said.
“There was an interactive conversation as the group ‘chatted’ about our own rituals — making coffee, breakfast with family, exercise and journaling were all examples,” she said. “These little conversations give students, teachers and parents a chance to connect outside of the virtual classroom.”
Brother Lucian is happy to be a part of this experiment in online learning.
“It means a lot to me just to see all of those faces on the screen every morning — students, faculty and staff, and the occasional house pet,” Brother Lucian said. “Brother Richard and I already have a friendly, humorous banter that we’ve developed over the years, so I think the community enjoys watching us joke around a little bit. But above all, I think we all need the familiarity of the routine.”
The students are already seeing the benefits of this new routine.
“Starting the day off with Brother Lucian and Brother Richard is like watching the news, the campus news,” said sixth-grader William Reisinger. “They do a great job of sharing the monastery news and announcements. One of my favorite parts about the announcements is the meditation. It really is relaxing to have two minutes in the morning to just relax and prepare for the day.”
During the two minutes of silent meditation, the students are encouraged to release any thoughts, good or bad, and just let them go.
“I really believe in this meditation because it helps us all recognize our dignity and priorities,” Brother Lucian said. “We are all worthwhile people – even if we are sitting silently doing nothing. When we approach God in silence, we are transparent. We have no words to hide behind.”
Lizzy Diethelm, a seventh-grader, likes starting her day with prayer and meditation because it helps her get prepared for the day.
“It helps me to be calm so I can focus on the learning day ahead of me,” she said.
Morning prayer with Brother Lucian and Brother Richard is something Pauley’s two kids, who are students at Prep, don’t want to miss, she said.
“They usually tune in with one of their iPads as we are finishing breakfast and we listen to them together. I’ve heard of several other families who are also doing this,” she said. “It’s such a part of our routine and a link to our daily normalcy.”