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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Get Inspired: Kinzey Lynch Is Blind — But That Doesn’t Keep Him From Running Marathons

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This Drexel student, who has been blind since birth, runs on Kelly Drive every weekend. This is Kinzey’s story in his own words, which I put together for Be Well Philly and Philadelphia magazine based on a run (he is FAST) and interview I did with him.

How to Laugh at Your Worst Days (and Why You Should)

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A Q & A with 22-year-old author and nonprofit founder Shane Burcaw in Philadelphia magazine’s Be Well Philly.

From Nairobi to NYC to High School

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(photo courtesy of Xavier High School)

Andrew Kiare Mumbi grew up in villages and markets outside of Nairobi, Kenya, but now he lives in Brooklyn. He wanted to pursue his education in the U.S. Through the diligent efforts of Mark Orrs, a PhD in the sustainable development program at Columbia University and a professor at Lehigh University, as well as through the generosity and open-mindedness of Xavier High School and sponsor family Joe Schrank and Laurie Dhue, Andrew is now doing exactly that. Xavier just published an interview with the newest member of their class of 2017, called “The Longest Commute to Xavier.” It’s inspiring that these kinds of broad cultural leaps can be made when people are passionate about making them happen. Thanks to everyone involved with Andrew and with nonprofit organization Harambee USA, which continues, despite all obstacles and odds, to make things happen.

To learn more about the Harambee USA Foundation, which is 100% volunteer-staffed, visit harambeeusa.com.

Kenyan student Andrew Kiare to continue high school studies in NYC

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Andrew Kiare, a friend and student in Kenya affiliated with the non-profit Harambee USA, has been offered a full scholarship to to study at the Xavier High School in Manhattan for the next four years. Andrew, who has already been excelling at his studies in Kenya, has been hoping for an opportunity to study abroad for some time now. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mark Orrs, a PhD in Sustainable Development at Columbia University as well a professor at Lehigh University, Andrew has found housing with the very generous Joe Shrank and Laurie Dhue in New York while he continues his studies. This is an incredibly exciting instance of cultures coming together for a greater good. Studying abroad can change a person and expand their vision beyond the scope of their immediate life, no matter what culture they come from. The opportunity for a smart and motivated teen from a developing country like Kenya to be able to have that experience is even more valuable, however, because he can take his experiences back to his country and be a force for change and development there, where change and development are already brewing. Another friend, Michael Mungai, was given a similar opportunity with a college scholarship at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, my alma mater, and he is now completing his masters degree and writes for The Huffington Post, with plans to move back to Kenya this coming year. Congratulations to Andrew, Mark Orrs, and Xavier High, and everyone who continues to take big, fearless steps where other people would balk and claim “impossible.”

Kenya: Harambee Aquaponics Project

Interesting video describing the attempted project by Harambee USA in Dagoretti in Kenya: “Our mission is to use technology in sustainable agriculture coupled with a community-based business model to provide low-income families access to fresh produce and protein. Simultaneously use agriculture as a means to improve community organization through alternative work opportunities and strengthening relationships between businesses and consumers.”

The Beginnings of the Harambee Aquaponics Project

Harambee USA is involved in trying to establish a sustainable economic system for the center in Kenya with the new Aquaponics project.

“The pilot program of this project is to install a fully-functioning aquaponics system at Harambee Youth Kenya. Aquaponics is a recirculating system that connects hydroponic grow beds with a fishery in order to replicate a miniature ecological system as an agricultural method. The project utilizes reused materials to build the system’s structure and uses a finite amount of water and low amount of energy to run the system–making it environmentally sustainable and ideal for the conditions of East Africa.”

These and other projects exist in progress to seek out ways to fund an affordable and economically viable shelter for the boys of Harambee USA that doesn’t rely on unstable European and American donation. True change has to happen locally for it to stick, and projects imposed from above often hurt rather than help developing economies. With these and other self-sustaining projects, hopefully solutions can be found for the continuing problem of alleviating poverty without overstepping natural growth and domestic solutions.