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La Jolla Country Day School’s first TEDx event spreads messages of resilience and persistence

Seven speakers took the virtual stage for La Jolla Country Day School's inaugural TEDx event.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Seven speakers from the La Jolla Country Day School community shared personal experiences related to “Agency, Resilience and Persistence,” the theme of the school’s inaugural TEDx event streamed live.

LJCDS junior Tavisha Khanna, 17, organized and moderated the April 30 event, inspired by the school’s November 2019 “Human Library,” which gave speakers a platform from which to share their interests.

TEDx events are independently planned local gatherings providing presentations based on the format of TED, an organization that offers talks and conferences on a variety of topics.

“I just felt like I thought it would be cool to provide … an opportunity for people in our community to talk about things that they’re passionate about,” Tavisha told the La Jolla Light.

“There’s always a lot of focus on really significant people who come to talk to us, but I also think … you can just look into our school and there’s so many amazing people doing so many amazing things.”

The theme was repeated from the 2019 event. “I thought it was really relevant to what was going on in the last year,” Tavisha said.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, “it’s been really difficult being a student at home,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that have required a lot of resilience.”

LJCDS junior Daniel Pons spoke about the connection between modern architecture and psychology, saying a stroll through La Jolla led him to wonder at modern architecture’s popularity.

“It seems odd that the places in which we are living in are so far displaced” from nature, he said.

Daniel attributed the disconnect between architecture and nature to Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who wrote in his book “Ornament and Crime” that “architecture was more about structure, not aesthetics. Putting ornamentation on a building would have it pertain to a style and therefore it would age and not be in fashion anymore.”

Modern architecture stripped buildings of ornamentation and curved lines, Daniel said, which led to consequences for human psychology.

“When your brain [is] put in a room with straight lines,” he said, “it’s subconsciously stressed.”

Daniel cited studies that found gazing at “more organic shapes,” like plants, can reduce stress, and gave examples of buildings by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and others who incorporated natural shapes to “support the inhabitant and their primal needs.”

LJCDS teacher Deborah Shaul spoke about being critical of sources of history. “There are so many lenses … through which we see the world that it’s hard to know how we’d really view society if we were left on our own to figure it out,” she said.

Seven years ago, Shaul’s LJCDS department eliminated textbooks in her American studies class, which combines history and literature. “I was thrilled that I would no longer be limited by the lens of the textbook’s editorial team,” Shaul said.

She said she relied on student presentations to supplement class activities, which, despite initial resistance, would eventually “embolden them to become more active learners.”

With Shaul’s encouragement, students “built a sizeable bibliography of primary and secondary sources they could rely on,” which translated to higher grades, she said.

“Removing the textbook definitely brought initial misgivings and fear,” Shaul said. “But now the results are an incredible increase in original thought and analysis.”

Neuroscientist and LJCDS biology teacher Renna Wolfe spoke about using the nervous system to combat stress, saying “our resilience and our ability to manage stress is predictive of our long-term physical and psychological health.”

The parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and digestion after a stress response, is controlled by the vagus nerve, which runs through the whole body, she said.

“Your vagus nerve is quite literally your built-in buffer to stress, mediating your parasympathetic nervous system,” Wolfe said. It “actually forms the physiological basis of resilience.”

Just as we exercise to improve muscle tone, we are able to strengthen vagal tone — the vagus nerve — by practicing “resonance breathing,” which consists of a four-second inhale and a six-second exhale, she said.

Resonance breathing has been shown to put biologic systems into synchrony, Wolfe said, and is “the most direct way to hack your stress physiology and boost your parasympathetic function,” returning you to a state of calm after a stress response.

La Jolla Country Day cross country coach Scott Sanders says running is "an act of agency."
La Jolla Country Day cross country coach Scott Sanders says running is “an act of agency,” promoting physical and mental health.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Scott Sanders, LJCDS cross country coach and French and history teacher, said exercise is “an act of agency,” promoting physical and mental health.

“I know that I can experience a location in a much different way if I include a run,” said Sanders, who added that he likes to run on vacation.

Running is “a personal test … an opportunity to push beyond perceived limits ... if a runner is persistent and dedicated to their training,” he said. “And for this they must show and develop resilience, because the training is physically and mentally challenging.”

Persistence is a skill transferable to surviving the pandemic, Sanders said. “We’re running in a race and we still don’t know how long it will last,” he said. “Today, over 13 months into the pandemic, and this craziest of school years, I push on because I know I can. And because there are others beside me. And because I choose to.”

LJCDS freshman Maya Krishnan discussed the power of psychological resilience, or “the ability of humans to adapt well in the face of adversity and quickly regain their pre-crisis state of life.”

For Maya, improving her psychological resilience after learning her mother was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder meant realizing “the power of optimism and maintaining a positive attitude during the times of crisis” and developing a passion for researching integrative medicine.

Maya shared coping techniques such as figuring out your personality type and tailoring your coping to that type, along with accepting the problem so you can begin to work toward a solution.

“My magic phrase for living life is to ‘be positive,’” she said, “which coincidentally also is my blood group.”

LJCDS technology department head Quoc Vo addressed the theme while recounting a bicycle accident that left him with several broken bones, including ribs and vertebrae.

During the recovery process, which involved multiple surgeries, Vo said the act of standing up again made him realize “it doesn’t take something really big to bring you joy.”

Vo continued to find joy as he progressed through rehabilitation. “I started noticing that the smaller things that I could do again were wonderful, things like walking on the beach, taking my son to play baseball … and even cooking,” he said.

Vo said his accident taught him the importance of “finding joy in everything ... by examining the things that you overlook because you’re always looking for the bigger wow factor.”

Carson Walker, a Country Day sophomore, spoke about sports’ ability to “bring us together” and help “communities ... rally behind each other.”

“Sports are an outlet to escape from poverty, yes, but sport is also the love of your country, sport is the love of your community, sport is an outlet to express oneself,” he said.

Sports “give us a sense of unity and hope,” Carson said, something “the world could use a little bit of right now.” ◆