Buddha once said of meditation that “it is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.” It doesn’t take much to understand the truth of this statement, especially when it comes to teaching stressed out little kids how to be mindful of their actions. For the past three years, the staff at Robert W. Coleman Elementary in Baltimore, Maryland have sent unruly children to the meditation room instead of detention. The unusual disciplinary method has seen remarkable results.
Since the program was put into practice, Robert W. Coleman Elementary has seen a sharp decrease in referrals and zero suspensions. In an interview with CNN, a Robert W. Coleman student who had been ejected from his classroom after getting into a fight said that he went to the room, “did some deep breathing, had a little snack, and I got myself together,” before going back and apologizing to his class.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Per a report about the program, kids who enter into the “Mindful Moment Room,” go there to stretch, practice deep breathing, and various yoga poses. These types of acts relax the children and give them space to calm down and think about their feelings clearly. The Holistic Life Foundation, the nonprofit that operates the meditation room, makes sure that, in addition to getting students to engage in various physical activities, the kids who get sent there have an opportunity to actually talk about what they think was behind their dismissal from the classroom.
The idea of sending kids to meditation and not punishing them with isolation is also a way to combat the negative and often racialized effects of school suspensions often driven by various zero-tolerance policies. More than 90 percent of students in Baltimore City are black and Latino, and a majority of the students at Robert W. Coleman are also grappling with such stressors as neighborhood violence and the effects income inequality. According to a study by the Civil Rights Data Collection, black students are three times as likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts. When broken down even more, that truth holds up. According to the same study, black girls are suspended at double the rate of white boys and six times the rate of white girls. While black students represent only 16 percent of student enrollment across the US, they represent more than one-quarter of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest.
At Robert W. Coleman, mindfulness isn’t limited to trouble students. According to the same CNN report, at the beginning and end of every school day, all kids spend 15 minutes participating in a school-wide guided meditation session.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health (NCCIH), regular meditation has been shown to increase the number of folds in the brain’s outer layer, which are correlated to the brain’s ability to process information well. In addition to helping process information, meditation has proven effects on emotional health and well-being. A different NCCIH study found that the practice can “affect activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain involved in processing emotions), and that different types of meditation can affect the amygdala differently even when the person is not meditating.” In short, it’s something from which all students can benefit.