Inspired by elements of feng shui, St. Louis Park resident Ann Drew Yu has created a tool for young girls to find inner strength—and build self-esteem.
The "Intention Box" encourages users to state one intention each day, with that intention built around cards designed by Yu, featuring topics such as "calm," "being me" and "creativity." Through journal writing, goal setting and reflection, young girls build confidence as they work toward their intentions.
Yu previously created an Intention Box for adults, and she is currently working with Hopkins schools on a pilot program that is implementing the Intention Box as part of the curriculum for students in grades 9-12. Her goal is to train teachers there to take the curriculum and run with it by themselves next year. Yu also wants to start pilot programs in other districts—including St. Louis Park.
St. Louis Park Patch recently caught up with Yu to discuss the Intention Box, what she's trying to do with students, and how she thinks it can help combat bullying.
St. Louis Park Patch: Tell us a little about yourself.
Ann Drew Yu: I’m a mother and a former teacher. I have two sons, ages 12 and 15. When my younger son was born, I stayed home, knowing I’d implode if I tried to be an English teacher and a decent mom, personally. And one thing led to another—I injured my back, needed a new dining room table, and I was led to studying feng shui. It's fascinating to me, the principles of energy flow. The aspect that really fascinated me was the role that intention played. Feng shui is really about being intentional, using your home as a tool to focus your intention for your life. A couple of years into doing feng shui consultations, an idea came to me to create a tool where I could share this information. Thus, the intention box was born.
St. Louis Park Patch: You have two boys, yet decided to create something for girls. Why did you choose this path?
Yu: It absolutely was influenced by my own philosophy and life experiences. I would have loved something like this as a girl. There are so many challenges to navigating adolescence. Even more so now with negativity from texting, and social media and cyber bullying. A tool that helps you kind of go a step beyond a diary, where you have a way to get your feelings out, but then takes it to the next step (is big). What is it that you want? It starts moving you in a positive direction.
St. Louis Park Patch: It seems like diaries are more reactive, whereas the Intention Box sounds more proactive, asking what someone wants to do today or this week or this month. Is that a fair statement?
Yu: Yes, and I even keep it in a tighter frame. I encourage people to have an intention for one day. What is one simple step you can do today to bring in calm? Or to reach out to a new friend?
St. Louis Park Patch: Tell us a little more about the Intention Box curriculum.
Yu: I come at beginning of the week. I’m teaching them about the concepts of intention, what it is and isn’t ... I’m teaching them meta-cognitive concepts, all the while allowing them to reflect. So, one week might be “strength.” They do some reflecting in their journal, and we work toward, “Ok, what is it that you’d like? What is one step you can take today to use some strength?” They set their intentions, then they reflect later in the week. I respond with simple encouragement, then come back the next week.
St. Louis Park Patch: Do you want this to get to the point where teachers take this from your hands and run with it? Or do you like coming in because you have a teaching background?
Yu: I want both. The goal is to get it in as many different schools—and other organizations that serve young people—as possible. In order to do that, it’s me training the professional. But I love it—I love being back working directly with young people. It’s really fulfilling to get invited into their hearts and minds. So I hope to always be doing a pilot program somewhere.
St. Louis Park Patch: Do you think you’ll start a program with St. Louis Park schools?
Yu: I’d love to. Haven’t talked to them yet. It’s really happening quickly. Hopkins wanting to implement it as an internal pilot next year happened faster than I expected. So I’m still kind of reaching out.
St. Louis Park Patch: What do you think makes the Intention Box work?
Yu: Number one is simplicity. One of my primary objectives was (making something) people would really use. Beauty is another core element. There are so many things that pull us down in life. So providing a beautiful way to direct you toward positive thinking is an extension of something I deeply believe. But the (main) reason it works is because it’s all about you. It’s personal. It’s not what your parents want for you. It’s not the “shoulds” we lay on ourselves. It’s cracking it wide open. What is it that you really want for yourself? When you really hit that authentic place, you’re invested, you’re engaged.
St. Louis Park Patch: You created the Intention Box for girls based in part on your experience growing up. What is it like growing up as a young girl? What are some of the challenges?
Yu: Let me add the caveat that having sons and working with boys in schools, I’m more and more arriving at the position that there are equal challenges, most of them the same or slightly different. With girls, one of the challenges is that they’re very verbal. Their power comes from words too often, socially. And now, particularly, with all of this “silent” communication going on, we adults can’t hear the other side of the phone conversation. Or see the note that is being passed. I have to admit, I do worry about what’s being poured into our kids’ heads without us ever hearing it and without them having any tools or life experience to develop their own positivity muscle, their own sense of self, before that starts to happen. And girls have more of a tendency to retreat and be passive, and that’s hard to read. What’s going on in there? What are you really thinking about?
St. Louis Park Patch: How do you think it is growing up now versus when you were young? Is it more challenging because of things like texting and Facebook?
Yu: I think in a lot of ways, yes. Because you have these platforms that allow for instantaneous verbalizing. You don’t even have to think about what you’re saying, or the impact of what you’re saying, before it’s out there. I think it is more challenging in ways that, frankly, we adults are just beginning to understand. As a parent, one of the things we want most for our kids is one of the hardest to deliver, and that’s to give them the tools to go within, and find their own strength and self-esteem.
St. Louis Park Patch: You spoke a little about how the Intention Box can help combat bullying, by helping youngsters find strength and self-esteem. As someone who is involved with the issue, how do you view the bullying problem in America?
Yu: My own personal belief about bullying is that the source of it is when a kid—or adult—doesn’t feel good about themselves. There is something they feel yucky about, and they’re lashing out. I’m not sure if it’s worse (than many believe). My suspicion is that is. I think a lot of it was not discussed in previous generations. It was a “suck it up” (mentality) ... (Today) there are so many platforms for negativity. And they’re so powerful.
St. Louis Park Patch: Do you think more and more schools will adopt curriculum like yours, taking steps to help empower youngsters?
Yu: I do, and I whole-heartedly hope so. For one thing, our culture is so busy. As much as I would love to do workshops here and there, we can’t all get together. Schools are the place where every kid is supposed to be everyday, so they’re just an excellent place to provide this type of life skill development … I read a report recently that said more and more is falling on schools ... And this research was talking about the need for "connection" falling on schools. It was sort of criticizing the emphasis on “testing, testing, testing,” where we’re losing the opportunity for kids to feel part of a community. They’re feeling lonely. Lonely in a group. And they go home, and life is so busy. So I think curriculum like this, which is really about our humanness, and elevating us individually—it’s very digestible … You can just see students start to fill up a bit.
St. Louis Park Patch: You’re working with students in grades 9-12. Do you think that’s the right age to teach these topics? Do you think there is a “right age?”
Yu: I think that’s still unfolding. I think junior high is an excellent age. But I also feel fifth grade would be good. I haven’t tested it yet with a group, but there’s something about that fifth-grade year. Boys and girls are becoming more self-aware. I think that’s when that confidence of childhood begins to get cracked open, and self-reflection begins. That’s when “Mean Girls” stuff starts to happen ... It seems like a critical time.
St. Louis Park Patch: What would you say to the parents of bullied kids?
Yu: I think self-esteem, self-worth and confidence are built from small moments. And the more we can help guide our kids toward those moments of empowerment, of growth, (the better). For example, (a young girl I worked with) had the intention, “I see myself sharing my art today with family and friends.” It was a “being me” intention. And she reflected and said how awesome it felt to share, not keep it (inside). And another girl wanted to speak to someone new in gym class today. That was her intention. Later that week, she reflected and said, “I did it! I didn’t chicken out.” And to me, that’s it. Those small moments. And when I say small, I don’t mean in a diminished way. I mean doable, real moments—those are the building blocks of self-esteem and self-worth. So the more opportunities, the more tools we can give our kids to strengthen that sense of self—that is bully prevention.
St. Louis Park Patch: What would you say to kids who’ve been bullied?
Yu: There is positive and negative energy. There is energy that feels good, and energy that doesn’t feel good. And for whatever reason, that’s where (the bully) is at. It’s their way of trying to get help, of trying to get power. We don’t know what their story is. What we can work on is your story. What do you want for yourself? What’s something positive you’d like for yourself? Maybe it's connected to that bullying situation, or completely separate from it. Because that’s a way to help you build and develop your own personal positivity muscle and protective positive shield.
Want more from Ann Drew Yu? She'll be starting a blog on St. Louis Park Patch—be sure to check back soon for her great insight!