The Inner Strength Approach
Inner Strength focuses on the goodness, wholeness, and creative potential of each student.
Research shows that when we become aware of our strengths, capacities, and care for others, we feel happier and more fulfilled, we act with more kindness, and we find access to greater resilience in times of difficulty. The Inner Strength approach focuses on uplifting the positive qualities of our students. Through the curriculum and the support, students gain experiential access to their own inner reservoirs of perseverance, courage, optimism, creative passion, and sense of purpose.
Working in some of the most under-resourced schools in Philadelphia, a city that, in 2021, had the highest poverty rate of all major US cities, Inner Strength instructors are trained to recognize and appropriately tend to the impact of trauma that most of our students carry. Intergenerational poverty, gun violence, systemic racism, mass incarceration impacting family structures and stability, food and housing insecurity, addictions, and other health issues directly impact the majority of our students, affecting their ability to learn and depressing their optimism about their own future.
Inner Strength fills a specific need for these students. We give them tools they can use on their own, wherever they are. Learning strategies and perspectives that work in real life, teens gain confidence that they can be steady in the face of anxiety, understand the confusing factors that influence their experience (including the 300 million year development of the brain), and that they can choose positive thoughts over negative self-talk. These skills can make all the difference between pursuing their dreams and giving up faith in themselves.
The three keys Inner Strength teaches teens are strategies that unlock calm, curiosity, and care.
- Calm is taught through a variety of methods, including mindfulness-based practices, somatic-based stress reduction, and emotional intelligence training. Students learn specific brain hacks and strategies so when they are anxious, angry, or agitated, they can dial back the emotionality and reset themselves. Students are thrilled, reporting, “I learned it’s ok to take a breath and let myself come back to myself. Now I don’t get so mad.”
- Calm is also developed as students gain emotional intelligence, learning to identify their thoughts and feelings and make better choices over what they pay attention to and respond to.
- Curiosity is taught by helping students see their experience in light of millions of years of evolutionary development as well as hundreds of years of technological, communications, and cultural shifts. They see how the brain evolved in ways to help them bond with their peers, take risks and learn new skills, and also go through periods of hyper-emotionality. There’s hardly a class where students don’t erupt saying, “Now it all makes sense! No wonder I reacted the way I did!”
- Curiosity is also fostered by looking at the characteristics of post-modern complexity, and how we have more individual agency and choice but generally less social support, when compared to life some 1,000 years ago before the rise of large urban centers, the products created in the industrial age, and the exposure provided by technology.
- Care is developed through Love and Kindness practices, which help students feel gratitude and appreciation for their own qualities and for the mentorship they receive from others. Teens regularly report, “I didn’t realize I was so mean to myself in my thoughts! Now I have a kinder voice inside.”
- Care is also fostered by teaching students how to notice positivity, even in small moments as a way to support themselves. They practice extending acts of kindness and encouragement, a homework assignment that reveals to them there is more care in their own actions and in what they receive than they may have previously noticed.
When students learn how to better cope with challenges in their lives and when they are encouraged to love learning, they develop conviction in their purpose in Life. This transforms the classroom from frustration, alienation, and boredom, to a living laboratory where teens explore their own experience and find deeper meaning. The joy that arises as they learn how to care for their own mental and emotional well being gives them confidence and the increased ability to stay focused on long term goals even in the face of challenge.
Positive Psychology, Emotional Intelligence, Social-Emotional Learning, Mindfulness-Based Practices and other skills can effectively be embedded within the school day. This brings the whole child to the learning environment, leading to a youth’s sense of integration and wholeness rather than alienation and fragmentation. This integrated and inclusive well-being approach gives rise to personal and academic success.
In this time of increased mental health issues among youth, seeing students gain measurable increases in self-compassion, self-regulation, and optimism is a powerful demonstration of what is possible and how we can raise healthy teens who become strong, caring, and capable adults.
"My experience was something new and interesting. It allowed me to step away from my stress and recognize other perspectives. I became more aware of the present and learned more about myself."
– Morgan, 11th Grade
"Mindfulness is the fundamental human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re performing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily comprehensible to us when we practice on a daily basis. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research revealing that when you discipline your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain."
– John, 11th Grade
"Being in Inner Strength helped me learn that instead of doing things on impulse, I could take a step back, take a deep breath and really analyze what I'm doing."
– Nicholas, 10th Grade
An Evidence-Based Curriculum & Whole School Supports
The Inner Strength curriculum is a CASEL-recommended social emotional learning program that weaves mindfulness-based practices, contextual thinking tools, with positive psychology and emotional intelligence approaches to provide students with a robust approach to self-knowledge and well-being. The curriculum and delivery methodology have been enhanced over the years based on results from a Syracuse University research study, demonstrating the impact of the full 12-lesson program. Every year, students have shown statistically significant improvement across a variety of metrics, which correlate to emotional and mental wellness as well as academic success.
As a trauma-sensitive organization, we know that our work begins exactly where our schools are at. To support students best, we need to support the whole school system and adapt programs to best fit the individual school climate.
In addition to our signature 12-lesson program, we provide digital resources for teachers to use with students, retreats and assemblies to help students team build and have fun, in-school Chill Spots with supervised activities and supports for students who need a moment, and other programs. Inner Strength also provides school administrators and teachers with Stress Management Professional Development sessions, as well as Mindfulness Teacher Training for those classroom teachers who want to learn to bring Inner Strength tools into their own classrooms.
1) We believe the possibilities are endless when students are curious, compassionate, and self-aware.
In the 12-lesson Inner Strength Teen Program, students learn:
Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders
Our program strengthens students’ sense of agency so they feel informed and empowered to be the culture-changers of tomorrow. By integrating Developmental Thinking and Systems Perspectives, the Inner Strength curriculum teaches youth about the context of their present day experience from a historical, cultural, and neurobiological lens. When students understand the vast forces that shape their experience, they are equipped to make choices that will support them going forward.
"Meditating helped me relax, release my stress, and open my mind to be able to find a solution for my troubles."
– Zion, 9th Grade
"If it were up to me, I would have the meditation class every day. It is just so peaceful, and helps you find a better place in life."
– Diamond, 9th Grade
"I loved using my imagination. I feel as though I am more positive. I know myself more."
– Aaliyah, 9th Grade
Addressing the Challenges Schools Face
Public schools have been facing challenges for decades. The last few years have further shown that change and supports are needed. Not tomorrow . . . right now.
What are these issues?
How can a mindfulness and contextual thinking program help?
The method of funding American public school system has created concentrations of under-resourced schools. So many schools are in need of technology, building repairs for clean drinking water and safe schools, sufficient staff to keep classroom size manageable, and more. Under these conditions, mental and emotional resources–though essential for student success–generally remain available only to students with sufficient private means.
Inner Strength provides access to wellness skills generally only available in affluent communities. These tools, once learned, are life-long supports. They can be used by students anytime, anywhere. In addition, Inner Strength VIBE, our entirely free teen mindfulness mobile app puts resources right in the palm of a student’s hand.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left enduring marks on young people, especially on those who were already experiencing instability in essential areas of food, housing, basic financial resources, and family health supports. A year of virtual school exacerbated loneliness, depression, anxiety, addiction, gang influence, and other serious social health issues.
During the pandemic, Inner Strength doubled the number of classes we taught each week, supporting students and teachers. We launched our free mental wellness app Inner Strength VIBE, and developed new programming to meet students where they were at. These innovations in curriculum have opened up new creative avenues including more individualized supports and self-reflection activities for those students experiencing social anxiety.
Since 2019, Philadelphia has seen a 47% rise in gun violence. In 2021, nearly 1 out of every 5 shootings harmed a young person between the ages of 13 and 19. Many schools have been directly impacted. Students and staff remain shaken by fear, grief, and anger even as life and classwork go on.
Sadly, Inner Strength has assisted schools following the loss of a student. We provide programs, assemblies, and drop in activities to support classmates and teachers as they process their grief, loss, numbness, and shock. Schools have valued the sensitivity of our instructors to hold a caring space and allow individuals to find what they need.
In a 2022 poll of nearly 3 million educators, 90% of participants responded that feeling burned out is a serious problem. Burnout is no longer a sign of weakness or immaturity on the job, it is an indicator of a mental, emotional, and physical condition which must be taken seriously and responded to before it leads to long-term erosion of health.
Inner Strength has served 2,686 educators with Stress Management supports and training sessions. Teachers learn how to defuse triggers and how to embed small actions of stress reduction into their regular routine. In these sessions, teachers regularly laugh, enjoy time with their colleagues, and describe the relief of time to be themselves. With the high rate of teachers leaving the profession, schools need to tend to teacher wellness for staff retention, reduced absenteeism, and a more positive and productive work culture.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Amy Edelstein, educator, author, and public speaker is a powerful communicator of ideas and beliefs that can help us transform ourselves and the culture we live in. She is the founder and executive director of the Inner Strength Foundation. Amy has 35-years experience working with contemplative tools and developmental philosophy, and has taught in half a dozen countries around the world. She is also the cofounder of Emergence Education Press, a publishing house which produces transformational books and programs for adults, reaching 10,000 individuals a year. Amy is a Cornell University College Scholar, recipient of a 2019 Philadelphia Social Innovation Award, and author of five books including the award-winning bestseller The Conscious Classroom.
Ayanna Matlock brings many talents to Inner Strength. A student of meditation for many years, she has also spent many years supporting builders of urban culture in the non-profit sector. She works at the 6th largest transit agency in America (SEPTA), in their Innovation Department helping us implement and modernize through employee & customer insights. As she says, “I’ve appreciated its introspective philosophy and its deep pursuit in awareness of self. I believe in the power of Design Thinking and the “Yes, and …” spirit. It really does give everyone a voice in how we all make life more loving & compassionate. My greatest gift, is an 8 year old, named Joshua.”
Jeff Carreira is a master teacher of philosophy, meditation, and cultural evolution. He is the author of six books on the subject and maintains an active international teaching schedule. Widely considered one of the leading innovative voices in evolutionary philosophy and transformative spirituality, Carreira also has a traditional educational background, holding an M.A. in curriculum development and has taught in the Massachusetts Public School System. He has 25-years experience with contemplative practices and is cofounder of Emergence Education, which creates transformational programming for adults. Jeff serves on the Board of Directors and as a program advisor for the Inner Strength Foundation.
Sharon Kind brings her expertise and enthusiasm to the ISF Board. She holds an M.A. in Early Childhood Education, is co-founder of Southeast Early Childhood Learning Center, Founder of Yoga Evolution, and longtime teacher of Yoga, and Qigong. She is also an Interfaith Minister and mother of 3 beautiful sons. Sharon also serves as a board member for the Patricia Kind Family Foundation.
Stephen Gross brings decades of experience in the financial and investment world. He is founder and principle of Stephen M. Gross Inc. He is also an active alumnae of Central High School and knows the importance of supporting high school students. A dedicated mindfulness practitioner, he also brings knowledge and passion of Inner Strength’s core work.
Brendon Jeremi-Jobs is a pioneering teacher and educational leader, committed to transformative education on race, gender, and history. He currently teaches World & African American History, and Sociology in the Philadelphia Public Schools. In 2016 Jobs was selected from over 10000 teachers to advise the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on K-12 Educational Programming. He has been awarded prestigious teaching fellowships and worked as a Lehman Fellow, a National Constitution Center Annenberg Fellow, a James Madison Fellow, and an Education Pioneer Fellow with the SEED Foundation in Washington, D.C. He also received the Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre Teacher of the Year Award and was nominated twice for the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. He received his M.A. from University of Pennsylvania, and his BS from Columbia University.
Cheryl Tuning, is Vice President of Marketing for AVI Foodsystems. Reporting directly to the CEO, she is the senior leader responsible for planning, development and execution of the company’s marketing and communications strategies both internally and externally. Her expertise lies in high performance team building and stakeholder engagement. She is known for her ability to inspire, execute flawlessly and produce results. Her work envisioning a 5-year strategic Marketing Plan for ISF has provided valuable guidance for the organization.
Claire Zammit is the co-creator of the Feminine Power courses for women and co-leads a thriving community of tens of thousands of women throughout the world. A highly trained specialist in transformative education, Claire has a unique gift for designing leading edge programs that give participants access to new worldviews which lead to lasting personal change. Claire holds an MA in Social Ecology and is currently completing her doctorate in Transformative Learning & Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book, Feminine Power: Awakening to the Creative Force of Life and co-creator and co-host of the acclaimed Women on the Edge of Evolution teleseries.
Craig Hamilton, founder of Evolving Wisdom, is a pioneer of evolutionary spirituality and conscious evolution. A powerful educator and innovator of online transformative coursework, Craig has graduates in 50 countries, numbering more than 6,000 to date. Craig is a founding member of Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute, a member of Deepak Chopra’s Evolutionary Leaders Forum, and was a participant in the Synthesis Dialogues, a 35-person interdisciplinary think tank presided over by the Dalai Lama. In his current work, Craig is helping to articulate an authentic evolutionary spirituality—an “integral enlightenment” which illuminates the vital relationship between individual transformation and collective evolution.
Licensed clinical psychologist, Daniel Cantor works in the greater Philadelphia area specializing in addiction issues. He has served at the Philadelphia Consultation Center, Girard Medical Center, and Key Recovery Center. He is a meditation practitioner and long time student of evolutionary philosophy. Daniel serves as a Board Director of the Inner Strength Foundation.
Joshua Kisver is Vice President of Finance & CFO for the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), a world leader in promoting quality health care. He has over 18 years of management and financial experience in the not-for-profit industry and is a certified public accountant. Joshua also serves on the Board and is Treasurer for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children – Philadelphia County. He received his BBA from Temple University and his MBA from Drexel University.
Dr. Baime is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the founder and Director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness. Since 1992, the Program has trained more than 10,000 people in mindfulness-based stress management. At Penn, Dr. Baime has developed and led numerous courses about mindfulness meditation and mind-body medicine.
Nancy Kelley served as the Founding Executive Director of the New York Genome Center. She led the Center from a start up through its current stage as it became a world-class genomics research center, raising $110 million to do so. Many of NYGC’s foundational elements, such as its Pilot Laboratory at Rockefeller University, the NYGC Innovation Center, and key clinical and technology partnerships, were established under her leadership. Ms. Kelley oversaw the build of NYGC’s permanent facility in New York City and recruited a large scientific and management team as well as several of the Center’s Associate Members. She holds a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Harvard University and has over twenty years of executive management and board experience in starting, growing, and restructuring organizations, raising capital, recruiting diverse management teams, creating and implementing strategic plans. Nancy serves as an Advisor to the Inner Strength Foundation.
Peter is the lead consultant at the Heller Fundraising Group, located in New York City with nonprofit clients everywhere. He has over 25 years experience in the nonprofit world and has raised millions of dollars for many organizations while also making them stronger. Before starting his company in 2004 he worked at Columbia University for 10 years raising major support and becoming the Director of Development for Columbia’s Engineering School. Peter has taught Major Gifts Fundraising in Columbia’s Fundraising Management Graduate Program, has trained fundraisers at The Foundation Center and elsewhere, is Co-Chair of Gotham Networking’s “Make a Difference” group, and is co-executive producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
Our organization runs on the creativity and passion of our talented team.
Alyson has spent the better part of 14 years in the non-profit sector working in areas such as adult education, refugee resettlement, workforce development, program development/management, grant management, and non-profit staffing. She is an avid practitioner of meditation and mindfulness and is excited to be able to use that in a professional setting. Alyson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Temple University and a Master of Science degree in Forensic Psychology from Walden University.
Rebecca Donahue comes to Inner Strength from 10 successful years in the hospitality industry as events manager in large brand hotels. Rebecca currently sits on the
board of directors for Meeting Professionals International- Philadelphia Chapter. Wellness is a
huge part of Rebecca’s life and she is the First Author “An Exploratory Study of Wellness Travel:
Differences Between U.S. and Non-U.S. Travelers”. She has been a devoted practitioner of
yoga and mindfulness since college and is excited to be part of an organization that helps so
many youths find their own meditation and mindfulness practices. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of
Arts degree in Recreation, Sport Leadership and Tourism Management from University of
North Carolina Wilmington,
Julie Coopersmith has over 15 years experience in Mindfulness and Yoga practices. Julie has studied Mindfulness Meditation, has learned with Patricia Broderick, PhD and Jenny Mills, is a graduate of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, and has taken extensive coursework in therapeutic yoga. She has developed programs with Occupational, Physical, and Speech therapists and has partnered with them for children and adolescents in school settings as well as privately. Julie is certified with Yoga Ed for school aged children and with the Yoga Alliance, EYT-500 hours. Julie holds an MBA in Health Care Administration.
Lina holds a Masters in Mindfulness for Educators from Antioch University, and in addition to bringing her 13 years of dedicated mindfulness practice to ISF, she is also working as an Adjunct Faculty member in the Mindfulness for Educators Master’s and Certification programs. She is a certified school teacher in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and has over seventeen years of teaching experience in both the US and abroad.
The following ISF instructors have successfully completed the Inner Strength teacher training for the Teen Program, including mindfulness, cultural development, and primary theories of adolescent neuroscience and are part of our current teaching roster. All active instructors participate in weekly professional development sessions, continually deepening their knowledge, skill set, and ability to work together as a supportive cohort.
Debbie Wigrizer has been practicing meditation and yoga for over 20 years and is a Certified Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance. She has an avid meditation practice and has studied meditation with many inspiring teachers, and now guides yoga and meditation hiking retreats. As a graduate of the Mindfulness Curriculum Training with Mindful Schools and Mindfulness Education Programs for elementary and high School students, she continues to teach the value of meditation to students in the Philadelphia schools. In addition, for over 20 years, she has taught at Community College of Philadelphia. She has a BS and MS in Education as well as certificates in Medicinal Aromatherapy, Thai-Yoga Bodywork, Reiki and Yoga Outreach. She hopes to bring her passion for innerstrength and peace through mindfulness to as many students as possible in order to raise a more conscious community and world.
Haylee Warner is a trauma-sensitive yoga instructor and holistic health and wellness counselor with a focus on Ayurveda. She brings her expertise and sensitivity to the classroom, coupled with her expertise in the creative movement arts.
Holly is a communications specialist with core strengths in public relations, strategic marketing communications and advancement with extensive experience working for nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and foundations. Her special interests are education and healthcare /wellness. She is certified to teach yoga and mindfulness to grade school children through Verge Yoga as well as her Inner Strength certification for work with high school students.
Jody Smith Long began her first meditation practice at 14 years old. Over the years her mindfulness practices have been inspired by many teachers, yet her most profound learning has come through direct experience and personal discernment. For the past 15 years, Jody has guided people of all ages into experiences of stillness, insight, and inner strength as an energy healer. She holds a BFA, an MAT in the Teaching of Visual Arts grades K-12, and certificates in many healing modalities including Craniosacral Therapy, PSYCH-K , Reiki, IET, and Quantum Touch .