Andre Petrolo, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy 2010

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by Andre Petrolo

It is with great pleasure that I share Andre Petrolo’s fascinating blog. He is an inspirational teacher and explains that “a lack of basic healthy eating has taken a toll on our children’s ability to learn effectively”.


Andre Petrolo, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy 2010

Andre Petrolo has been involved in the Education Sector in London for 7 years. He has worked in the capacity of Learning Support, 1:1 and Whole Class Mentoring, as well as having a brief stint as an English and Media Studies teacher at an Independent School in Bermondsey. He was recently given the role of Higher Learning Teaching Assistant (HLTA) at Tunmarsh Pupil Referral Unit in Newham, East London, where he currently works as a Cover Supervisor and 1:1 Literacy Support teacher, as well as maintaining his duties in Learning Support.

LIKE A DUST PARTICLE

I want to be smaller

Like a dust particle

Which moves in the wind

It goes everywhere

Can go

Sit on the head of a king

Or can go

And fall at the feet of someone

And it can go

And sit everywhere

But I want to be a particle of dust

That is fragrant

That is nourishing

That is englightening

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, aged 7

Yes. I was as startled and amazed as you are now. A seven year-old wrote this. And an eleven year–old wrote this:

WICKEN FEN

The old wooden gates swinging wide open

leaving room for a path of wood stretching out in front of you.

The heavenly scent of the clean fresh air.

The whistling sound of the grass and the trees

swaying left and right in the breeze.

At night you stare at the wonderful sight.

The path leading over the moist soft grass.

You walk on the bridge over a gently flowing river.

The hill reaching so high, almost touching the sky.

The windmill still stands as you walk the stairs

which have been there for years.

The buzzing of the bees busy in their hive.

All the sounds surround you.

The warm feeling of welcome is quick to arrive.

The sun shining bright on the grass

As green as the leaves in summer.

The way forward getting thinner leaving the feeling that lasts.

The adventure is over.

Feeling warm inside.

Farewell until next time.

Nicholas Campbell – McBride, 11 years old, Cambridge UK

I’m not sure what’s sadder – that we all were, more than likely, startled at this – or, that things have become so epidemic in terms of learning disabilities, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Mental Health, that the likelihood of a seven or indeed, an eleven year old producing something of this calibre in today’s education climate is virtually unheard of. In schools, as in medicine, we seem to be caught up in a culture of prescription education – as Sir Ken Robinson has attested so many times in his many TED Talks and YouTube videos – students are being force – fed a diet of National Curriculum – laced information, deemed to be what they’ll need upon exiting school. He says it’s creativity that’s lacking. Jamie Oliver, on the other hand, will tell you that it’s an influx of sugar lurking in the everyday foods parents and schools trustingly place in their children’s (I’m sorry, I can’t refer to them as students – it’s so impersonal – henceforth I shall refer to them as what they are – children) mouths. So what’s the answer? More creativity, less sugar? How do we get our kids to the sort of academic level that the two preceding poems illustrate so clearly and eloquently via their respective author’s abilities and talents?

Answer: As far as I, and apparently a few others are concerned, with a balanced prescription of both.

So – what does the trumped – up (pardon the pun, that was entirely accidental I promise and absolutely nothing to do with Donald J’s recent ascension to the White House!) teacher, TA, tutor and author of this relatively anonymous blog suggest.

Simple. Don’t listen to me. Listen to the experts. The ones with the experience in this area. Parents, teachers, doctors, everyday laymen who have nothing but love for their children and who would, for the most part, do anything to see them succeed in a holistic sense – academically, socially and emotionally.

I’m going to start by speaking about Dr Natasha Campbell – McBride, Head of the Cambridge Nutrition Clinic and author of the book ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’. Perhaps more importantly, Natasha is the mother of Nicholas, the awe-inspiring 11 year – old penman of the second poem, Wicken Fen. Natasha states the following:

‘There is an unmistakable epidemic of autism going on around the globe. According to the UK Department of Health, 1 in 166 children in Great Britain are diagnosed with autism (she later mentions other learning disabilities including ADHD/ADD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, various Behavioural and Learning problems, Allergies, Asthma and Eczema – which, she says, hundreds of children she had treated in her clinic have presented with over a three year period in which her book was written). After years of working with the children in my clinic, I hardly met one child who had presented with just one of the above conditions. Every child has two, three or more of these health problems at once. For example, a child would present with allergies; at the same time the parents would describe a couple of asthmatic episodes and eczema and then would talk about their child’s extreme clumsiness (Dyspraxia) and learning problems. A large percent of allergic and asthmatic children are dyspraxic and hyperactive to various degrees. Many of them have problems with concentration and attention span, which affect their learning ability’.

Later, she goes on to say this:

‘…we have to look at one factor, which unites all these patients in a clinical setting. This factor is the state of their digestive system. I have yet to meet a child with Autism, ADHD/ADD, Asthmas, Eczema, Allergies, Dyspraxia or Dyslexia, who has not got digestive abnormalities. In many cases they are severe enough for the parents to start talking about them first. In some cases, the parents may not mention their child’s digestive system, yet when asked direct questions would describe a plethora of gut problems’.

Campbell – McBride also mentions that in her recent research and clinical experience at the time (2004), digestive abnormalities have a lot to do with the preceding afflictions, even going so far as to say that the child’s digestive system holds the key to the child’s mental development. The underlying disorder, she says, which manifests itself in different children with different combinations of symptoms, resides in the gut! As a result of this, she termed this newfound discovery Gut and Psychology Syndrome. So, it would appear, Jamie, Sir Ken, et al all have a point – but, this still begs the question: what possible – if any exists at all – proof is there that this could in fact be the case?!

I move now to the author of the first poem, Like A Dust Particle, by Mrs Nirmala Srivastava, or – as she is affectionately known amongst the practitioners of Sahaja Yoga meditation, which She founded and taught to millions across the globe – Her Holiness, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi from India. (Some background on Shri Mataji and Sahaja Yoga can be found here should you be interested in doing so: www.freemeditation.com or www.sahajayoga.org.uk).

As well as being the founder, Shri Mataji also studied medicine and psychology, and was invited to speak throughout Her life at many health conferences and scientific forums amongst other things, and also received a tribute from Claes Nobel, nephew of Alfred and Chairman of United Earth, for Her efforts: https://comemeditate.com/tribute-to-shri-mataji-by-claes-nobel-nephew-of-alfred-nobel/

The main tenet of Sahaja Yoga is the subtle awakening of an ancient, primordial energy dormant within all of us known as Kundalini (Coiled Mother in English), which, under the right circumstances, rises spontaneously through the body’s central nervous system and enlightens the smaller, sub-plexuses therein, which lie embedded in major organs throughout the body. What’s fascinating about this, with respects to the current topic being addressed here in this blog – is the use of a diagram which was taught by Shri Mataji (Shri, funnily enough, meaning ‘teacher’ in English – another irony, as this post is to do with education) known as the subtle system. Here it is in case you’ve never seen one (these are also used in such alternative medicine settings as acupuncture and reflexology to name a couple):

Shri Mataji taught that the entire solar plexus region, which houses the liver also, is paramount not only for good quality meditation with respects to Sahaja Yoga – but also of crucial importance for maintaining attention on things in general (note the green, circular diagram within the stomach). I have provided a list of foods to be avoided on both the GAPS diet and the SY Liver Diet, simply to highlight the similarities (neither is exactly as the other), for the purposes of illustrating the overriding point in this blog that nutrition and diet=improved focus and attention, which are both Dr Campbell – McBride’s and Shri Mataji’s points and also provide a clear Eastern and Western world – viewpoint on both:

GAPS Foods: http://www.siboinfo.com/uploads/5/4/8/4/5484269/gaps_food_list.pdf

Sahaja Yoga Liver Diet: http://www.freemeditationpeterborough.co.uk/Liver%20Diet.pdf

It is at this point that I will conclude, and continue my next post by talking a little more about meditation in – depth as a tool to be used for optimum mental health and performance (with reference to Sahaja Yoga meditation, as it is the main practice I undertake after having tried such practices as Qi Gong, Reiki, Pranayama and Mindfulness in the past and finding that Sahaja Yoga was the best fit for me), as well as its use in school settings. To this end, I will provide referenced material from two main sources: Silence Your Mind by Dr Ramesh Manocha, a Sydney – based GP and leading researcher into the scientific and medical benefits of Sahaja Yoga meditation, as well as Dr Katya Rubia, a Professor of Neuroscience at King’s College London, from whom I will reference a series of videos entitled The Scientific and Medical Benefits of Sahaja Yoga Meditation. With meditation fast becoming popular again – especially in so far as being a means by which we can keep our children still, quiet and contemplative for a while! – in schools, I feel it of great importance that we visit this topic in more detail.