Traditional school rules dictate that when children act up in class or on the playground, they are given detention or even suspension. There’s still a lot of debate on whether or not this strategy is effective at doing anything more than getting students in trouble.
In an attempt to improve student behavior, Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore has been utilizing a different approach to traditional discipline—offering meditation.
Instead of sitting in the principal’s office, disruptive students spend time in what is known as the “Mindful Moment Room”. The room is filled with soft lighting, colorful decorations, and fluffy pillows to sit on. The children are encouraged to sit down, relax, and practice breathing or a meditation exercise. The calming environment and intentional breathing is meant to help them calm down and re-center before talking through what happened in class and heading back to continue learning.
Although meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, many people see it as something reserved only for monks or yoga enthusiasts. However, in recent years, science has found some interesting effects that meditation has on the minds and bodies of people from all walks of life.
For example, one study conducted with U.S. Marines before deployment suggested that regular meditation could help the soldiers improve their memory and alertness while providing a kind of mental armor against disruptive emotions. Another study done by the University of California, Davis suggested that meditation could improve focus and attention span.
Coleman Elementary’s meditation room was created as a partnership with local nonprofit Holistic Life Foundation. For over ten years, the foundation has provided an after-school program entitled “Holistic Me”, in which students of all ages practice yoga and mindfulness exercises.
Apparently, the kids have even begun to share their mindfulness practice at home with family members. Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez was quoted in the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine saying: “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, “Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.’”
The “Holistic Me” program also provides a mentoring and tutoring service to the kids, and teaches them about the environment and how to care for it. Students and their leaders visit nearby farms, build gardens, and help clean up local parks. The kids are also encouraged to take ownership by acting as co-teachers and running the yoga sessions.
Students aren’t the only ones to benefit from this program. In fact, Robert W. Coleman Elementary has had zero suspensions all of last school year and so far this year. Additionally, nearby Patterson Park High School has used the mindfulness programs to both drop suspension rates and increase attendance.
In today’s world, many students and teachers are struggling to adjust to the challenges of larger class sizes, limited resources, and new learning requirements from the Common Core standards. The inspiring success that mindfulness has had so far may be a great example of how holistic programs can help improve performance in schools across the country.