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Stress-free New Mantra for Schools?

by Bill Nemitz

Portland (Maine) Press Herald, May 14, 2006


Topsham--He's captain of his hockey team. Soccer too. He sings in two
school choruses, plays the fiddle and the piano and consistently makes the
Mt. Ararat Middle School's honor roll.

Can we say "stress?"

Not with Francis Meisenbach, we can't.

"When I meditate, it's totally relaxing," Francis, 13, said Friday morning
as kids ricocheted around his school's main entrance. "It clears my head.
It's a stress reliever."

Francis and his mother, Jane Meisenbach, drove down to Portland last week
to participate in a conference that might leave some Mainers wondering if
it's time to barricade the borders. Organized by the fledgling Maine
Committee for Stress Free Schools, the conference focused on introducing
Transcendental Meditation into the daily grind of any school willing to give
it a try.

That's right, TM. As in the Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the early
1970s. As in closed eyes and silent mantras. As in, proponents say, a
healthy alternative to a culture that force-feeds millions of kids
medications like Ritalin each day in a frantic attempt to calm them down.

"They say Americans are drowning in an ocean of stress," said "TM" author
Bob Roth, one of the organizers. "Well if that's true, our children are
drowning in that ocean."

Truth be told, the three-hour seminar (free lunch included) was a sales
pitch. Behind the Maine Committee for Stress Free Schools is the
Consciousness-Based Education Program, a nonprofit business brought to Maine
by Katie and Roger Grose of Biddeford.

Their goal: To persuade school systems in Maine that by teaching kids to
meditate for 10 minutes twice a day, test scores will go up, behavioral
problems will go down and the need for attention-getting medications will
all but disappear.

School-sanctioned TM . . . in Maine?

"Even though Mainers are notoriously conservative," said Katie Grose, "they
are also supremely intelligent."

Not to mention curious. Last week's audience, which included dozens of
teachers, school administrators and guidance counselors, listened in rapt
attention as speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of school-based

One was Dr. Ashley Deans, director of the Maharishi School of the Age of
Enlightenment in Iowa. He explained how TM has helped his students score
repeatedly in the top 1 percent on national standardized tests - and how
they've won more than 100 championships in sports and academics over the
past decade.

"People often say to me, 'You're sitting on one of the best-kept secrets in
the world,' " Deans said.

Mike Laverriere, a guidance counselor at Kennebunk High School, came away

"It all made sense to me," Laverriere said. "I was fascinated by the whole
idea of (using meditation) to quiet kids down."

Kids like Francis, whose parents taught him how to meditate when he was 10.
He does it for exactly 13 minutes twice each day, using the beeper on his
watch to tell him when time's up. And he loves every minute of it.

"You can do it just about anywhere," Francis said. "Sometimes I do it in
the car . . . sometimes on the bus. Your body is completely relaxed. There
is absolutely no stress in you. It's just a quiet awareness."

Meditating . . . on a school bus.

Imagine that.

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