TMR Interview: Meg Ferrigno
Margaret Ferrigno is a student at the Graduate School of Education at Penn. Before coming to GSE, she has been working on environmental education projects for the past 7 years, including fundraising for community greenhouses, with the Pureland Project in Kham in eastern Tibet , which is being turned into a non-profit organization. She also works at the Lea school in Philadelphia as an educator for the Urban Nutrition Initiative, teaching a group of students nutrition and cooking lessons in the school’s After School program once a week.
We have both the full video interview as well as the transcription below. Please let us know what you think!
The Mindful Revolution: What led you to want to dedicate your career towards education?
Meg Ferrigno: I feel that education is the foundation for all change, the mind is the basis of how we perceive the world and how we act in it. I feel that with education and good teachers, we can influence how to change the world.
TMR: What values does the Pure Land Project aim to cultivate in children and how do these values affect communities, countries and the world?
MF: So the Pure Land Project first started when I moved to Tibet and I realized that there’s a lot of respect for people there, but not so much understanding of the environment, and so although the people respected the environment there wasn’t so much of an understanding of it. So, the Pure Land Proejct really aims towards educating people and communities and schoolchildren about the environmental consciousness that some of us have here.
TMR: How are the schools you ran in Tibet different than youth schools in America?
MF: The biggest difference that I see between schools in Asia and schools in America is the difference in the level of respect that students and parents and teachers have for each other. So I tell my students here that I’m always surprised that they don’t respect their teachers, because in Tibet, teachers are as high as the lamas and the spiritual teachers. They are regarded by community members and the students as people to be revered because they have a lot of knowledge and wisdom to share.
But here in America, I feel that students disrespect the teachers and vice versa; parents don’t trust teachers and I feel like there’s just a lot of blame and disrespect in the system here and that’s what makes it unsuccessful.
TMR: What issues do you see in our school systems today? What are the sources of stress for children?
MF: So I find that that disrespect between students, teachers and parents creates violence within the schools. Students are violent towards each other – I see a lot of fighting in the schools. I see a lot of violent communication between the teachers themselves with principals, and violent communication between teachers and students, and I feel like the cycle just spirals out into the communities and at home in the neighborhoods and that’s a big issue here. With the schools in Tibet, their system of respecting each other is something that’s inherent within their culture, and here, I feel like to reform that there needs to be a lot of education and examples of healthy communication, so when I’m interacting with other teachers and students in Philadelphia, I make sure that they know that I’m coming out of a place of love and I’m always having a positive attitude and it’s just by the way that I’m acting and interacting with everyone that I try and teach.
TMR: How can we teach children in an empowering and sustainable way?
MF: I think that experiential education helps children own their own trainings, so when I work with students, whether it’s in the garden or in the kitchen cooking, I make sure that they are running the classes as much as I am, we’re co-teaching and we’re asking questions and discovering answers together, so when students are given more power over their own curriculum and their own choices, I feel that they have more pathways and they find that they are able to do whatever they want and reach their dreams. That is a big part of healing because people are disempowered and that’s where society has been crumbling. When people feel empowered and feel that they have choices and options, then we are going to be able to heal.
TMR: What sort of education system would be your ideal?
MF: I went to Hampshire College for my undergraduate degree and I’m still grateful for that education today because it’s very much based on the individual and it’s about experiential learning. I understand how some students aren’t motivated to learn what is being taught in our curriculum in K through 12 grade, but I feel that if we are able to listen to more students, have smaller classrooms, have more alternative classrooms and spaces, perhaps in gardens, teaching outdoors, really finding what students are passionate about, be it activities or food or farming, just finding what the students want to learn and basing your education off that. It’s a great way for students to develop their minds.
The tie between what I do here in Philadelphia and what I do in Tibet is mindfulness, because here in Philadelphia I am teaching mindfulness about our own bodies, of nutrition, of where our food comes from, and in Tibet it is about mindfulness regarding environment and they are very closely tied together,but I feel that teachers and administrators rarely have the time or feel like they can take the time to be mindful, but I think that
everything we do, whether it be policy work towards changing the educational system or the hands-on work that teachers do, I feel that every step, every moment has to be done with mindfulness, so that we know where we’re heading with this, and how to make that change positive.