When one of the kids at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in West Baltimore acts out, chances are they’ll not be sent to the principal’s office but instead to the Mindful Moment room, a soothing space with comfy cushions and beanbags, lit by glowing pink Himalayan salt lamps.
It’s part of the Mindful Moment program run by the Holistic Life Foundation, a nonprofit started in 2001 by brothers Atman and Ali Smith, who grew up in the neighborhood, and their friend Andres Gonzalez. Longtime meditators, they wanted to give kids better tools to cope with stress and anger in this low-income, high-crime neighborhood, which was at the epicenter of the riots that followed Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. They began by teaching mindfulness first at another elementary school, then at a local YMCA.
Now, thanks to their efforts, the day at Coleman Elementary School starts with a breathing exercise over the PA system and ends with an after-school program where, in addition to sports and tutoring, students can learn yoga and meditation. All day, staffers guide students through breathing and other centering exercises in the Mindful Moment room.
It’s working. In the 2013–14 school year, Coleman had zero suspensions.
The goal is to give kids tools for coping with trauma, anger and stress. The school incorporates breathing exercises into morning announcements and yoga into its after-school program.
Using meditation and yoga in schools is part of a trend in education, often referred to as “whole child” or “social emotional learning.” The idea is to address the social and emotional factors that prevent kids from being able to sit quietly to write or perform well on a math quiz.
It’s part of a move away from “zero tolerance” discipline practices, which often result in kicking kids out of classrooms, toward “restorative justice” practices that emphasize restoring relationships and keeping students in an academic environment.
The meditation rooms look nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.
In the room, misbehaving students are guided to sit, breathe and meditate in order to calm down and re-center. They are also advised to open up about what happened.
“It’s amazing.You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.”
Other schools are implementing such practices, too. In the U.K., the Mindfulness in Schools Project educates adults on how to set up programs. And in the U.S., Mindful Schools, another nonprofit, is working to do the same thing.
It’s a pleasant breakthrough for students, educators and parents alike, as the powers of living in the present are being actualised.
The kids may even be bringing that mindfulness back home with them.
In the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez said: “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.”
Hopefully this trend will continue and meditation and mindfulness will become the norm at schools around the world. As the Dalia Lama optimistically said.
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”