by Isabelle Grupac
During my first year of college, I joined a meditation program in Blacksburg on the recommendation of my advisor. There was a consensus among my peers that the course would be easy credit with minimal effort but major mental health benefits. I was skeptical at first, but after just a week of classes, I had deemed it my new favorite topic. Each session introduced and elaborated on a mindfulness practice, like body scan meditation, Qigong meditation, and breathing meditation. There were vitamin D lamps, therapeutic sensory activities, diffusers, and sound machines to promote mindfulness. For once, I was able to get my mind off work and school and direct my attention to being present in the moment. My grades went up, I slept better, and I didn’t feel as overwhelmed. When asking my instructor how I could expand on these practices moving forward, I was disappointed to realize that many schools and do not have these mindfulness resources available.
Mindfulness meditation is a mental training process-oriented around the idea that there is a basic human ability to be fully aware and present of where we are and what we’re doing and can take various forms such as yoga and mantras (1). Implementing these practices has proven to aid in focus, memory, and mood while lowering blood pressure and improving sleep (1). While its popularity is on the rise, mindfulness instruction remains inaccessible for a vast majority of communities that could benefit from it the most (1).
As reported by the CDC, of children 2-17 years old, approximately 6.1 million have been diagnosed with ADHD, 4.5 million have been diagnosed with a behavior problem, 4.4 million have been diagnosed with anxiety, and 1.9 million have been diagnosed with depression (2). Of college students, more than 80% have reported feeling overwhelmed by everything they need to do in school and 40% have reported feeling more than the average amount of stress in the past 12 months (3). As college enrollment continues to increase, the demand for mental health resources is also expected to increase (3). Impoverished communities are where we find the bulk of these statistics (4). Students who live in poverty and attend low-performing schools often carry trauma, conflict, and other issues from home to school, which hinders their ability to be available to learn and succeed academically (4). According to the nonprofit Child Trends, almost half of American children experience serious stress at home, due to things like a divorce, financial situation, or parent’s addiction (5). These children often have outbursts or suffer from distractions as they are fixated on their other troubles outside of school (6). The University of California, Davis, conducted a randomized-controlled study using a mindfulness curriculum for three local public elementary schools with impoverished children (7). Over the course of six weeks, fifteen in-class mindfulness sessions lasting fifteen minutes each were directed by certified instructors (7). At the end of the study, statistically, significant increases were reported in paying attention, self-control, participation, and showing care toward others (7). With these proven benefits considered, mindfulness meditation has the potential to improve the mental health and management of stress for our students.
The Mindful Schools nonprofit organization based out of the Bay Area of California aims to empower students, teachers, parents, and counselors with tools that support mindfulness education (7). In 2007, their team recognized how a great number of students are living in turmoil and implemented a mindfulness program that emphasizes compassion for others, respect in a school environment, and a commitment to equity (7). They offer core courses and electives that expand on awareness of the mind, body, and emotions to promote better focus, relationships, and calmness (7). With a network of over 60,000 educators from 100+ countries working to implement mindfulness, they have reached and impacted over 3 million children worldwide (7). From surveys with their partner schools, 100% of teachers reported that mindfulness in the classroom made a difference in students’ mental health, well-being, and impulse control, and 70% of students reported using mindfulness to calm down when feeling intense emotions (7). The organization is actively partnered with five under-resourced schools in San Francisco and Marin (7). Mindful Schools also provides training for teachers and have certified outside educators available to instruct at different locations (7). Their resources are accessible in various formats- online, in-person, and through videos, blogs, and podcasts as they acknowledge the functionality of their programs in different school settings (7).
Monetary contributions to the organization provide support for mindfulness programs for under-resourced schools, so I encourage everyone to donate to Mindful Schools at their website, https://www.mindfulschools.org/now-is-the-moment/. With more funds available, they can release more free curriculums and add to their scholarship fund. Many students, in impoverished communities especially, are afflicted with mental traumas that make it difficult to perform to the best of their ability. A non-disruptive classroom environment is ideal for teaching and learning, and through mindfulness education, students of all backgrounds can have the opportunity to find their inner peace.