2016 Prize Winner
She lives and breathes the presence, compassion and willingness that are the foundation of the curriculum we teach the teens. She is a uniquely talented educator, able to engage teens from all walks of life. She connects authentically and in a way that inspires trust and willingness.
Caverly Morgan, founder and director, Peace in Schools
The room in which Janice Martellucci teaches mindfulness studies at Lincoln High School feels more like a yoga studio than a classroom.
Students take off their backpacks and shoes before entering. They leave their cellphones in a basket at the front of the softly lit room. Some wear jeans, and others, sweatpants. But they all sit on the sage green yoga mats that encircle the space.
Whats the most important thing to remember when we begin our mindfulness practice? Martellucci asks the students before they begin a walking meditation
That theres no wrong way to do it, one student replies.
Thats right, Martellucci says.
Martellucci, 27, is a teacher for the Portland nonprofit Peace in Schools. Founded in 2014, the organization created the first for-credit mindfulness classes to be taught in public high schools in the United States.
Peace in Schools offers classes at Wilson, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, and Alliance high schools in Portland, and at Rosemary Anderson High School in Gresham. Martellucci estimates that she teaches 1,000 youth a year, both through instructing high school courses and through leading Peace in Schools bimonthly teen mindfulness nights and summer retreats. The program aims to be district-wide in Portland Public Schools within the next few years.
Martellucci discovered mindfulness six years ago, during what she says was a particularly difficult time for her. Her father had just passed away; she was experiencing health problems of her own; and her sexual orientation was shiftingshe found herself in love with a woman.
A friend recommended she try mindfulness meditation, so Martellucci started attending classes, going on retreats, and beginning an at-home practice. In no time, she was hooked.
Mindfulness gave me the tools to alleviate the stuff I was experiencing, she says. I could finally see the patterns and processes going on in the mind, and getting space in that was hugely transformative.
Before long, she says, her confidence increased, her relationships improved, and her life simply became easier even though hard things were still happening.
Now, Martellucci is teaching those skills in Portland. Her students learn different kinds of mindfulness meditation and are invited to explore their emotions and attitudes in a safe space.
Many of the teens tell me that this class is the most useful class theyve ever taken in school, Martellucci says. Were giving teens tools to cope. Tools, she says, she wishes shed had when she was in high school.
I felt deeply insecure and had so much stress, she says about her high school experience. It never occurred to me that I could have a different relationship with my thoughts.
BOTTOM LINE FOR PORTLAND
Janice Martellucci teaches free mindfulness classes to more than 1,000 teenagers in Portland through the nonprofit Peace in Schools. Mindfulness has been shown to increase emotional and mental well-being, even alleviating depression and mood disorders.
Here prize is generously sponsored by Revolution Hall.