In 2014, Ms. Edelstein established the Inner Strength Foundation (ISF), with a mission of fostering inner strength for outer stability in today’s youth. In less than five years, the organization has become the primary partner to the Philadelphia School District and Mayor’s Office of Education in bringing a well structured curriculum including mindfulness and systems thinking into schools. It remains the only resilience and mindfulness organization specifically focused on Philadelphia high school students. Nearly 6,000 Philadelphia students across 13 schools have already participated in ISF programs, and the organization is rapidly developing its capacity to support teens citywide.
The Inner Strength (ISF) teen program is a 12-week program for high school students that incorporates the most effective trauma-informed support, mindfulness and contemplative focus tools, social-emotional, resilience, and kindness building techniques, along with developmental perspectives to help students cultivate calm and focus, increase responsibility for self and others, and identify and overcome their psychological roadblocks. The program will reach nearly 2,000 Philadelphia district public school students during the 2018-2019 school year. Based on previous years, more than 80% of these students will be living at or below the poverty line.
In an evaluation by the Syracuse University's Department of Human Development and Family Science, ISF programs have been demonstrated to increase self-regulation and self-compassion among participating students, both of which contribute to academic and personal accomplishment (Bergen-Cico & Razza, 2016). The Inner Strength teen program also received the coveted designation from CASEL (Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning) as an approved social-emotional learning (SEL) program.
The Inner Strength teen program is unique among teen interventions in that it combines a set of seven stress-reduction and self-regulation mindful awareness techniques with lessons that teach students about the adolescent brain and how to view the world in a developmental framework. Students learn to understand large-scale systemic influences and to identify and address the cultural and physiological triggers that keep them from reaching their full potential. They learn about the developing brain and how to support healthy functioning. They develop the self-knowledge and brain regulating tools that enable them to adjust their behaviors in the face of triggers, and they begin to understand that they are not isolated and alone. These new skills and understandings can directly contribute to positive outcomes including: improved attendance and focus in school, fewer disciplinary actions, increased academic performance as well as reductions in school bullying and violence, decreased substance use, and decreased psychological issues. Long term, these improvements result in greater professional/vocational success and greater purpose, civic contribution, and personal happiness that arise from having a clearer sense of purpose, strength, and connection.
In the ISF teen program, students learn the essential 21st century skills of systemic, contextual, and flexible thinking. By helping students understand the context of 800 years of cultural development, 50,000 years of human civilization, 300 million years of brain development, and evolutionary change impacts their experience now, ISF programs open students’ eyes to the choices and opportunities before them. With this knowledge, they can understand their own strengths and challenges, and set their own course to achievement and happiness.
For teens who are particularly engaged, ISF offers leadership development, preparing students to share what they have learned with their classmates. Every student is trained to present in front of their peers, and the most interested students learn to lead these techniques with others, expanding the effectiveness and reach and helping kids internalize the tools more deeply. These peer leaders become vanguards of culture change within their classrooms and schools, normalizing support, regulation, and interest over the more negative behaviors all too common in classrooms today. ISF developed the first digital mindfulness badge with LRNG/Drexel and is now looking for additional ways to certify students.
Because nearly every participating student has experienced poverty-related stress, the ISF program uses a trauma-informed lens. The personal challenges caused by this stress, most notably anxiety, poor emotional self-regulation, and brain-based focus issues, are among the factors that the broad suite of mindfulness and contextual thinking tools are best-suited to address.