Meditation is Replacing Detention in Baltimore’s Public Schools, and the Students Are Thriving

By now, most peo­ple are famil­iar with the term “school-to-prison pipeline,” the descrip­tion of a sys­tem that fun­nels trou­bled stu­dents through dis­ci­pli­nary pro­gram after pro­gram. Deten­tions, sus­pen­sions, and often expul­sions fur­ther aggra­vate many stu­dents’ already dif­fi­cult lives, and send them “back to the ori­gin of their angst and unhappiness—their home envi­ron­ments or their neigh­bor­hoods,” writes Car­la Amu­rao for PBS’ Tavis Smi­ley Reports. Harsh dis­ci­pli­nary poli­cies don’t actu­al­ly change behav­ior, and “sta­tis­tics reflect that these poli­cies dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get stu­dents of col­or and those with a his­to­ry of abuse, neglect, pover­ty or learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.”

In short, stu­dents come to school with sig­nif­i­cant stress­es and set­backs, and are them­selves treat­ed as prob­lems to be quar­an­tined or forced out. But why not instead teach those students—why not teach all students—effective means of cop­ing with stress and set­backs? I can think of almost no more use­ful a set of skills to car­ry into adult­hood, or into a trou­bled home or neigh­bor­hood sit­u­a­tion. As the CBS This Morn­ing seg­ment above reports, one school in Bal­ti­more is attempt­ing to so equip their stu­dents, with a yoga and med­i­ta­tion pro­gram dur­ing and after school that takes the place of deten­tion and oth­er pun­ish­ments.

The Robert W. Cole­man Ele­men­tary School adopt­ed a twice-a-day yoga and mind­ful­ness prac­tice dur­ing school hours for all stu­dents, called “Mind­ful Moments”; and an after-school pro­gram called Holis­tic Me, which “hosts 120 male and female stu­dents,” writes Newsweek, “and involves yoga, breath­ing exer­cis­es and med­i­ta­tive activ­i­ties. Dis­rup­tive stu­dents are brought to the Mind­ful Moment Room for breath­ing prac­tices and dis­cus­sion with a coun­selor and are instruct­ed on how to man­age their emo­tions.” As we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed on this site, these kinds of activ­i­ties have been shown in research stud­ies to sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce stress, anx­i­ety, and depres­sion and to improve con­cen­tra­tion and mem­o­ry.

In the Holis­tic Me pro­gram at Cole­man, “which focus­es on prekinder­gar­den through fifth-grade stu­dents,” admin­is­tra­tors already noticed a dif­fer­ence in the first year. “Instead of the stu­dents fight­ing or lash­ing out,” says prin­ci­pal Carlil­lian Thomp­son in the video above, they start­ed to use words to solve their prob­lems.” None of the stu­dents in the pro­gram have received sus­pen­sions or deten­tions, and many have become lead­ers and high achiev­ers. The pro­gram was found­ed in 2001 by broth­ers Atman and Ali Smith and their friend Andres Gon­za­lez, all Bal­ti­more locals. In the past 15 years, their Holis­tic Life Foun­da­tion and its part­ners have offered a vari­ety of enrich­ment activ­i­ties but focused pri­mar­i­ly on yoga and mind­ful­ness prac­tices.

Using these tech­niques, stu­dents learn to resolve con­flicts peace­ful­ly and to reduce the amount of emo­tion­al tur­moil in their lives. Rather than fur­ther alien­at­ing or trau­ma­tiz­ing already stressed-out kids, this kind of inter­ven­tion pre­pares them for aca­d­e­m­ic and social resilience. The foun­da­tion has rapid­ly expand­ed since 2015, receiv­ing fed­er­al fund­ing and deliv­er­ing pro­grams to Char­lottesville, Min­neapo­lis, Madi­son, and abroad. It may not have changed the course of “school-to-prison pipeline” poli­cies just yet, but it has shown a con­struc­tive way for­ward for oth­er schools like Baltimore’s Pat­ter­son High, which has adopt­ed a 15-minute yoga and mind­ful­ness prac­tice at the begin­ning and end of each day for every one of its stu­dents.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions From UCLA: Boost Your Aware­ness & Ease Your Stress

Stream 18 Hours of Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions

Philoso­pher Sam Har­ris Leads You Through a 26-Minute Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tion

Dai­ly Med­i­ta­tion Boosts & Revi­tal­izes the Brain and Reduces Stress, Har­vard Study Finds


Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Michael Ham says:

    This will have a cumu­la­tive effect, I bet. And it makes a ton of sense: help them learn some­thing that can help with what­ev­er stress­es are dri­ving them to bad behav­ior. Much more con­struc­tive than sim­ply pun­ish­ing them, which doesn’t real­ly address the prob­lem but may in fact add to it. Much more like what Friends would do. It’s hard to go wrong by being kind.

    I hope par­ents of school age kids who read this will ask their chil­dren’s schools to insti­tute sim­i­lar poli­cies and prac­tices. The pay­off over a decade will be huge. It’s like the oppo­site of the effects of lead pol­lu­tion, which affects vio­lence fif­teen to twen­ty years out, when the chil­dren affect­ed by lead grow into vio­lent adults.

  • Alissa M. Clough says:

    How soon is it going to be before some preach­er decides that this is teach­ing pagan practices…to INNOCENT CHILDREN??

    They’re wor­ship­ing Hin­du Gods! Expos­ing them to demon­ic influ­ence! It’s not ‘peace’ that will keep them from evil, it’s VIGILANCE! Etc, etc.

    Well, any­thing for a buck in the com­mu­nion plate. And moral out­rage can be the most amoral of them all.

  • M says:

    Please teach them self-enquiry med­i­ta­tion, it is the best one.

  • Lesley Anderson-Pomeroy says:

    yoga is not reli­gion. there’s no wor­ship­ping of any gods. try doing even the most basic read­ing- even a 10 sec­ond search and you’d see that. And no, Hin­duism isn’t evil. Damn, you’re hor­ri­bly une­d­u­cat­ed per­son. Fix that before inter­act­ing with oth­er humans, please.

  • kadiddle says:

    All schools should go to this.

  • Sammy says:

    More like­ly some athe­ist par­ents cry­ing that inno­cent chil­dren are exposed to reli­gious rit­u­als…

  • Galen says:

    Bud­dhism is a reli­gion though; bring­ing peace of mind and body as can be seen in Thai­land.

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