Teens are over­com­ing exam stress by study­ing in cool lounges

For­get the li­brary or kitchen ta­ble, think co-work­ing spa­ces for stu­dents

Richmond Hill Post - - CURRENTS - By Nikki Gill

Be­fore teens can head into sum­mer break, they have to get through the dreaded exam pe­riod.

Lo­cal en­trepreneur Vanessa Vakharia wanted to take the dread out of study­ing ses­sions by mak­ing it fun. Last year, she opened a popup Xam Study Lounge, at 2581 Yonge St., with the goal of cre­at­ing a safe, sup­port­ive so­cial place for stu­dents to study in.

“There’s this whole nar­ra­tive around ex­ams that it’s such a mis­er­able time,” says Vakharia. “Imag­ine if they had this place that they were ex­cited to go to.”

Vakharia says tra­di­tional study meth­ods force stu­dents to be­have in a way that is not pleas­ant or ben­e­fi­cial to them.

“Be­ing iso­lated for six hours with a book or ma­te­rial that you’re not com­fort­able with or be­ing forced to go to the li­brary where there’s no talk­ing, that’s re­ally un­nat­u­ral for them,” she says.

Vakharia’s lounge has a colour­ing book sta­tion to help stu­dents de­stress, and she walks around with sage oils and gives pep talks.

The re­sponse from stu­dents has been pos­i­tive with many telling Vakharia that they’ve never per­formed bet­ter on ex­ams.

“Par­ents like it too,” says Vakharia. “A lot of them are just re­ally happy to see that their kid is so much less stressed out.”

To ac­cess to the lounge, stu­dents need to book a $15 two and a half hour time slot on EventBrite.

The City of Toronto has also cre­ated free youth en­hanced spa­ces in 10 fa­cil­i­ties, such as “the Crib” in the An­tibes Com­mu­nity Cen­tre. The in­for­mal spa­ces are de­signed by youth for youth, and in­clude com­fort­able fur­nish­ings, gam­ing tech­nol­ogy, home­work spa­ces and other ameni­ties.

“Youths use the spa­ces in so many dif­fer­ent ways and the idea is to have the space as flex­i­ble as pos­si­ble,” says Howie Dayton, the city’s parks, forestry & re­cre­ation di­vi­sion’s direc­tor of com­mu­nity re­cre­ation. The spa­ces are open six or seven days a week for about five hours a day af­ter school. One of the com­mon uses is for study­ing as they are set up with com­put­ers, Wi-Fi and mul­ti­me­dia space.

“We’ve had part­ner­ships with Ge­orge Brown or Hum­ber Col­lege who will come in and pro­vide some ad­di­tional tu­tor­ing sup­port,” says Dayton. “Es­pe­cially around exam time, we know the youths are un­der high stress and may need that level of ex­tra sup­port.”

For par­ents con­cerned about the im­pacts of exam stress on their teen, there is a sum­mer camp with a fo­cus on mind­ful­ness ed­u­ca­tion.

The Toronto Teen Re­treat run by In­ward Bound Mind­ful­ness Ed­u­ca­tion (iBme) takes place from July 23 to 28 at the Ecol­ogy Re­treat Cen­tre in Mono, Ont. The re­treat fo­cuses on con­cen­tra­tion, com­pas­sion and com­mu­nity.

“Con­cen­tra­tion comes from ac­tively teach­ing th­ese mind­ful skills that help young peo­ple learn to self-reg­u­late and give them th­ese skills to calm down and to fo­cus their minds,” says An­drea Poile, the Toronto pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor.

“We’re not just sit­ting down on the cush­ion and ob­serv­ing our breath. There is some of that, but we’re also in na­ture, and there’s mind­ful sports and dance,” she says.

Poile says in the five years iBme has held this re­treat, she has no­ticed an in­crease in school-re­lated anx­i­ety.

“We give the teens a tool box to cope, and a lot of them do cope bet­ter,” says Poile, adding that stu­dents tell her they use tools such as the In­sight Timer app when they are hav­ing a rough time at school.

“So they have this skill, and you never know when those seeds are go­ing to sprout,” says Poile.

Xam Study Lounge cre­ator Vanessa Vakharia

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