These Schools Sent Students To Meditation Instead Of Detention—Here’s What Happened

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I wrote this article for Rodale’s Organic Life:

Students in Baltimore are being sent to meditation and yoga practice when they act up in class and the results are extraordinary.

February 10, 2017
In some Baltimore schools, kids are no longer being sent to detention. Instead, if a student acts up, he goes to the Mindful Moment room for breathing exercises, meditation, and discussion. The room—and the methods taught therein—are part of a program created by Baltimore’s Holistic Life Foundation (HLF).

It started 15 years ago when a struggling school in a low-income neighborhood hired three Baltimore natives in their early twenties, Andres Gonzalez and brothers Ali and Atman Smith, to run an after-school football program for “problem kids.”

The trio agreed to facilitate, but pointed out that teaching the kids, who already had issues with aggression, how to smash into each other might not be the most productive means of calming them down.

Instead, the trio of young teachers took what they had learned from studying Eastern traditions and yoga, set aside the pads and helmets, and showed the kids how to practice mindfulness and downward dogs on repurposed wrestling mats. The results were transformational.

“The worst behaved kids became leaders among their peers,” Gonzalez says. “The ones who had been fighting became the ones breaking up fights.”

The now 37-year-old Gonzalez says many kids, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, are constantly surrounded by overwhelming stimuli that can make them high-strung, anxious, and defensive: some don’t get to eat before they come to school, or don’t get to sleep because there’s violence in the house; some don’t have parents at home because they’re dead or incarcerated.

“These kids are facing PTSD,” Gonzalez explains, “and they need solutions and coping mechanisms. For example, if Johnny has a fight in class, most schools will send him to the office. The moment he gets to the office he gets more upset, because now he knows his parents are going to be mad too. Then he gets suspended, and he gets even more upset. He didn’t get any tools or techniques to prevent future occurrences. But if you bring Johnny to a mindfulness room instead, he gets to talk with someone, and to learn breathing exercises and meditation tools that can help with balance and self-control. He also gets someone to look up to.”

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From the Top in Bogotá, Colombia

For the past few years I’ve assisted freelance with interviews and reports on young classical musicians from around the country for From the Top on National Public Radio. From the Top has gone international lately with this latest show in Colombia and I couldn’t be more proud. I’m thrilled to have been a small part of some of these interviews for From the Top’s excursion to the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo in Bogotá for a show featuring the Colombian Youth Philharmonic. Since then the radio show and live tour has continued traveling and in addition to national acts I’ve also Skype interviewed a young musician in Beijing for their show in China. From the Top is an indispensable show because it features talented kids in a way that shows their lighter side: the ways in which despite their passion for classical music they are really just kids, or teenagers, with quirks just like any other kid. I love contributing to the show and highly recommend checking out a few episodes even if you’ve never listened to classical music.
For more information or to listen to a show online, check out From the Top’s website.