Schools replace punishment with meditation and see drastic results

Students are sent to a Mindful Moment room to calm down instead of being punished.
Students are sent to a Mindful Moment room to calm down instead of being punished. Holistic Life Foundation

Students who are misbehaving are usually taken out of class and sent to the principal, who punishes the child by revoking privileges, calling home or sometimes suspending them.

But students in some Baltimore schools are sent somewhere different when they are acting out: a designated meditation room where they can calm down and decompress before rejoining their classmates.

The Mindful Moment room is equipped with bean bags and dim lighting, and students go through calming exercises with trained staff. At Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, teachers and staff can refer students to the room for an emotional “reset” when they are worked up. The student is led through breathing exercises and is encouraged to discuss the emotions that led to an outburst. They work with the adult to come up with a plan to use mindfulness in a similar situation in the future, to prevent an outburst.

After about 20 minutes in the room, they rejoin classmates.

The Holistic Life Foundation was started by two brothers, Atman and Ali Smith, along with friend Andres Gonzalez, who wanted to give children in low-income and high-crime neighborhoods a better way to deal with anger and stress. The foundation has now implemented the program in more than 14 Baltimore area schools with the goal of improving student behavior without leveling harsh punishments that tend to have no impact on student behavior.

“That's how you stop the trickle-down effect, when Mom or Pops has a hard day and yells at the kids, and then the kids go to school and yell at their friends," Gonzalez told O Magazine. "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.'"

Increasingly, teachers are bringing students to the Mindful Moment room as a first resort when a child is acting out. The program says students usually show “visible signs of relaxation and emotional de-escalation after guided practices” in the room.

The program also includes a “Mindful Moment” twice a day, which leads students in breathing exercises for 15 minutes over the PA system. Students can also participate in yoga classes. It has drastically reduced suspensions, with zero reported in the 2013-14 school year.

Elementary students aren’t the only ones benefiting from meditation practices: The program has also been implemented with older students, including those at Patterson High School. Students there also participate in a daily Mindful Moment and have access to the Mindful Moment room, where they can self-refer when they have a desire to reset. The “oasis of calm” is staffed with mindfulness instructors that form relationships with the students and help them work through problems.

The high school has also seen a decrease in suspensions both in the hallways and in class.

Breathe in, breathe out.