Meditation isn’t just for hippies and Eastern yogis anymore. Now in a search for alternative ways to handle behavioral problems in schools, certain districts in the United States (as abroad) have turned to the cerebral to bring about tranquility in what could be potentially volatile situations.
James Gaines of Upworthy.com recently wrote an article entitled, “This School Replaced Detention with Meditation. The Results are Stunning” (click here to read the original post) in which he wrote about how Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. This school, in conjunction with the Holistic Life Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to mindfulness and other self-healing methods to nurture community well-being, utilizes an alternative approach to disruptive and potentially violent issues. Its during- and after-school programs have produced tremendous results. For example, according to the article, the School’s restful Mindful Moment Room offers students an opportunity to get hushed and re-focused following a negative interaction for which normally the child would be sent to the principal’s office or would receive detention. Also fueling the School’s success is its after-school program called Holistic, Me. The kids, ranging in age from four to ten, are taught mindfulness exercises, yoga, and participate in community-improvement activities such as building gardens and cleaning up parks. Kirk Philips, Holistic, Me coordinator for the School boasts no student suspensions from the 2015 school year up to the time the article was written.
West of the Mississippi, Visitacion Valley School in San Francisco, California is located in one of the City’s poorest neighborhoods where guns are a part of everyday life. Violence from the streets contaminated the school resulting in physical altercations between these middle school kids three to five times per week. As reported by this NBC News story (view the video and read the original story here), the students take 15 minutes, two times per day (called “Quiet Time”) to reflect and get grounded. The School’s website states that the kids are given the choice between meditating, putting their heads down, or just sitting quietly. Since 2007, this program to “…improve health, reduce violence, increase focus, better academic performance, and strengthen self-concept’ is creating a buzz in the education community. Barry O’Driscoll, the School’s athletic director was not exactly convinced that meditation held the answer to the violence when the San Francisco Public School District partnered with the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education. He’s now a believer – suspensions dropped by a whopping 79% over a four-year period. Other noticeable changes in the students include better attendance and academic performance. Three other San Francisco area schools participate as well and have seen similar results. According to the School’s website, there are over 10 more Bay Area schools on a waiting list.
The left and right coasts aren’t the only geographic regions of the U.S. jumping on board this significant scientific find of mindfulness. Youth Guidance, a Chicago-based community outreach organization, created Becoming A Man (“BAM”). The purpose of the program is to aid students in delaying abrupt decisions so that they have the tools make more rational ones. This was seen as a more effective alternative to just telling kids not to fight.
U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research did a study to analyze the effectiveness of Chicago’s BAM after-school program. The conclusion? The 1,473 teens in the BAM focus group were 44% less likely to commit a violent act compared to the control group (not enrolled in the program). Even a year after the study had concluded, these teens showed higher academic performance and attendance rates.
According to the article, “Teaching Meditation to Kids in Chicago Swiftly Reduced Crime and Dropout rates” (click here to read the original post), Gabriel Fisher explains how BAM uses both breathing and meditation exercises to bring about “Positive Anger Expression”. In addition to reducing aggression, it’s been well-documented that meditation has a plethora of benefits to children such as better stress reduction and management, a calmer sense of being, and improved focus. This can be particularly beneficial to children who have withstood trauma in their young lives. Meditation gives them some of the tools to work through grief and anger which is most likely being acted out in school. This acting out may include violence, as well as the attendance and academic problems which the community is trying to combat.
While programs like these may be a part of the solution, the child’s family has the ultimate responsibility for working through these problems. However, it’s good to know that programs like this exist to lend support to the family and to be the family to those who lack one.
Has your community or one you know of first-hand enacted an alternative program that includes meditation? What have been the results? What’s been the community’s reaction? Do they notice a difference in those who participate?