A new mindfulness class that includes components like yoga and meditation isn’t sitting comfortably with Chilliwack Trustee Barry Neufeld.
He was the lone voice questioning the course — called Mindfulness and Movement 11 — that will be offered to students in the fall at Chilliwack secondary school. It’s among a list of new courses presented to the school board on Tuesday night by CSS staff and administration. Many of them are already being offered in some capacity by teachers, either in classrooms as an extra challenge to students, to meet new curriculum requirements, or in a club form during lunches and evenings.
Neufeld has been in the headlines over the past several months for his hardline stance against the sexual orientation and gender identity teacher resource, SOGI 123. He has claimed it to be a “weapon of propaganda,” from an “LGBTQ lobby.” His comments launched a firestorm of calls for him to resign, including from the Minister of Education, and he has refused.
Two of the courses in particular piqued trustees’ attention, with the other being Table Tennis 10-12. Neufeld made a motion to remove Mindfulness and Movement 11 from the block of five courses up for approval, saying he’d “like to know a little bit more about the mindfulness before we approve it carte blanche.”
“With mindfulness we could be getting into deep psychological problems,” he said. When asked by board chair Paul McManus if he had questions for the CSS staff, Neufeld answered: “I don’t think this the venue to be asking those questions.”
However, earlier he did ask principal Sharon Bernard if the school has a “partnership with mental health or counsellors, in case kids have some really deep problems the group can’t handle?” She replied that the NLC is right down the hall, with the counselling centre intake on Tuesday and a core team that handles mental health issues in the school as they pop up.
The course was presented by teacher Marey Casey, who has a fitness background. They already include yoga in their strength and conditioning courses over the past 15 years, she added.
“We’ve noticed that there’s a lot of students that are dealing with high anxiety, high stress,” she says. “They need a base of coping strategies. They need information on how their posture and how their breathing, how all of these physical things affect their well-being.”
This new course will students an option to study mindfulness and health more in depth, and the course would include a First Nations component that could include a field trip to a sweat lodge.
“Life is very busy,” Casey said. “They need to learn to take the distractions away and be present and be in their world.”
Trustee Walt Krahn noted that he attended Sardis secondary’s similar mindful training and conditioning class that day.
“That program had everyone engaged,” he said. “It’s a program that is certainly very, very worthwhile, and it does take care of students. It’s life-long learning to be actively involved.”
Trustees Dan Coulter and Bob Patterson also spoke in favour of the Mindfulness and Movement program.
“We all know in order for our kids to be successful we have to meet their social and emotional needs and we haven’t done a very good job in all cases,” Patterson, a former educator from within this school district, said. “So as we move forward with our educational agenda, I think you’re going to find that the more opportunities we find to meet those needs the better results we’re going to have in the academic area, and I believe this program supports that.”
Coulter noted that the district already has “systems in place in every school to deal with tougher situations.”
Chilliwack secondary school’s popular table tennis club is also turning into course for next year, eventually encompassing three grades, 10 through 12. The class will be run by Alex Chen, and a high level of excellence will be expected from the students. They will travel to sanctioned events, and as an off-schedule course they will practice outside of school time and during flex time.
McManus questioned Chen further on the course, and a parent who plays with the club currently was in the audience and spoke to the high level of playing. His own son is already graduated, and continues to come back to the school for the competition that can’t be found elsewhere, he said.
Other new courses include Small Ensemble Performance 9-12 with Garry Raddyish and Bobb Tarr and Construction Electrical 10-12 with Curtis Tieu. Strength and Conditioning courses will be replaced with a course called Principles of Strength Training.
In the end, Neufeld ended up abstaining from voting on approval of all the presented courses. Trustee Heather Maahs left at the very beginning of the meeting, after a closed meeting, due to illness. Trustee Silvia Dyck is on an extended medical leave.