By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor
It was such a bold and out there thing to do. When James Dierke became principal of San Francisco’s Vistication Valley Middle School 13 years ago, he found a population of students whose lives were besieged by extreme urban ills: poverty, drug and gang violence, regular shootings (in the school year 2002-2003, there were 41 murders in the neighborhood). The students who grew up in this environment were out of control, so much so Vistication Valley Middle School was known as “the fight school.” Police made regular arrests on campus.
There are many ways to try to get control of such a dysfunctional school. One is to clamp down. An Edutopia video and related article describes how Dierke took a different, inspired route. He introduced the students to meditation with a program called Quiet Time. Every day begins and ends with 15 minutes of silence. Students can decide whether or not to get meditation training for their 30 minutes of daily quiet – 90 percent choose to get the training.
“In order for kids to learn and be creative they have to feel happy and safe,” Dierke said in the article. “So I needed to work on the social-emotional end of things.” Since the program began in 2007, the truancy rate was cut by more than half to 7 percent, the suspension rate – formerly 13 percent – dropped to 6 percent. The teacher retention rate, once dismal, is one of the highest of any SFUSD (San Francisco Unified School District) middle schools. The schoolwide GPA went from C to B-. Before the meditation program, only one to two students went on to top performing magnet high schools; afterwards, that number rose dramatically.
What’s more, the students - many of whom the teachers reported suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - were reporting fewer headaches and stomachaches and said they were sleeping better. The Edutopia article quotes Val Tagaloa, who taught for 25 VVMS. "I've seen a 180-degree turn. Students are more peaceful, friendlier, and get along better."
What if more principals had the foresight to give kids the tools to deal with their stress by building up their emotional intelligence (EQ)? After all, there’s an increasing body of evidence that show kids with high EQ (who have better self-control, resilience, and perseverance) tend to achieve more in school. No wonder, given that current research shows how severely stress can damage a child's brain.
While this remarkable principal is an outlier (How many schools do you know that begin and end with a period of quiet mindfulness?), maybe this is a sign of a growing movement. Goldie Hawn is also preaching the value of giving kids cognitive and emotional coping skills with her in-school MindUP program, which includes teaching meditation. The program is for all students (not only those living with extreme stress) so they can learn to deal with the many stresses that kids today experience.
What do you think? Do you wish your child’s school had a meditation program? Do you think it would help?