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Mindfulness And Yoga Over Suspensions And Detention At Baltimore City Schools

Stacy M. Brown | 9/13/2019, 6 a.m.
A June 2019 University of Kentucky doctoral graduate's comprehensive research on the subject found that African American students receive discipline ...
Patterson High School and the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School have instituted the "Mindful Moment Room.” (Above) Students at Robert W Coleman elementary school participate in breathing exercises during a Holistic Life Foundation program. Colby Ware/Open Society Institute-Baltimore

Black high school students remain twice as likely to be suspended as white or Hispanic high school students, according to a 2018 study commissioned by NPR.

A June 2019 University of Kentucky doctoral graduate's comprehensive research on the subject found that African American students receive discipline the most by detention, suspensions, and expulsions.

"The results showed robust evidence of persistent discrepancies in disciplinary practices across ethnic and racial groups, with African American students and students indicating two or more races found to be at increased risk for being suspended and expelled compared to white students in both middle and high schools," said Albert Ksinan, the principal investigator on the University of Kentucky's study which was published in the Journal of School Psychology. "Further, the risk for African American students and students indicating two or more races were higher in schools with higher poverty rates and a greater ethnic/racial diversity of the student population.”

"Schools with students characterized by higher poverty and ones smaller in size reported higher rates of school disciplinary actions."

In what has proved successful, two Baltimore schools have implemented a unique program, thanks in part, to the Holistic Life Foundation, a local social services nonprofit.

Patterson High School and the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School have instituted the "Mindful Moment Room."

The room was initially for students who got into trouble.

"Now, we rarely see children [there] for disciplinary issues anymore," Coleman Elementary School Principal Carlillian Thompson told CNN in an earlier interview. "It's made a huge impact."

Most importantly, in the four years since instituting the room, Thompson says there have been no suspensions.

Andres Gonzalez, Holistic Life Foundation's co-founder and director of marketing and communication, told the PTA that he saw the impact that yoga and meditation had on what were previously seen as "problem kids" in the school.

"Instead of us picking up ten kids from detention, we were picking seven, then we were picking up five, and soon, we weren't picking up any kids," Gonzalez said.

At Coleman Elementary, the day begins and ends with a 15-minute guided meditation over the intercom. Students also receive an opportunity to practice yoga during and after school.

Although the room remains a place to re-focus, a student who might be disruptive most looks forward to utilizing it as "an oasis of calm," according to school officials.

Students are assigned a mindfulness instructor who engages them in a targeted discussion. Five minutes of active listening and discussion takes place before 15 minutes of what is referred to as mindfulness practice. That includes breathing exercises and even yoga.

"Since we've been doing [the Mindful Moment Room] here at Patterson, it doesn't take away from what we're trying to do, and the students are better able to get their work done," Patterson High School Principal Vance Benton told the national PTA magazine, Our PTA.

In the first year of implementing the Mindful Moment Room at Patterson High School, suspensions and verbal and physical altercations all decreased by more than half. At the same time, attendance rates increased by three percent and grade promotions increased by 19 percent and average student GPA increased by a half percent.

"The mindful moment program has had a very positive effect on Patterson High School. Students are conscious of the need and are open to the Mindful Moment practice," Benton said.

With the success of the program, the Holistic Life Foundation has planned a silent yoga party at the upcoming district-wide back-to-school night on Monday, September 16, 2019.

"They will be one of the many vendors at the event," said Abigail Lane, a district spokesperson.

The 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. event is scheduled to take place at the Maryland Science Center where more than 2,000 City Schools students and parents will explore interactive learning demonstrations, experience what learning will be like in school this year, and enjoy student performances.

"District staff will also be available to talk about the many programs and initiatives happening this school year," Lane said.