It’s no secret that students are facing increasing psychological and emotional stresses at school both academically and socially. Fortunately, meditation can help resolve some of these problems, and schools have already seen positive results by integrating just a few minutes of daily quiet time.
Edutopia recently studied Visitacion Valley Middle School’s meditation program, where students sit quietly or meditate in periods designated as “Quiet Time” in the morning and afternoon for 15 minutes at a time. In the seven years since the program’s implementation, the school has experienced dramatic changes in student behavior: suspensions are down 50 percent, truancy has declined 65 percent, and overall GPA has increased .5 percent.
As students relax and clear their minds, they are better equipped to deal with situations inside and outside the school. For instance, the neighborhood surrounding Visitacion experienced 41 murders in 2002-2003, and many students had connections to those who were killed. Quiet Time helped students feel safe and process the grief and fear they experienced as a result of the crimes. Their improved behavior has also made faculty more apt to remain with the school.
The statistics are just as encouraging on a nationwide level. 91 U.S. schools engaging in meditation have also seen improvement to their students’ well-being, including increased scores on attention-skills tests and a reduction in aggressive behavior.
Meditation techniques, such as transcendental meditation, focus on calming the mind in a deeply inward and natural way. The mind focus “transcends” all outside experiences and calms the body by decreasing the cortisol (stress hormone) that the body produces.
Mindful meditation (MM) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques have moderately improved students’ test scores and attitudes. By providing techniques to manage the stress and anxiety problems that plague many students today, both MM and MBSR have yielded improved attitudes toward stress pressures and a willingness to voluntarily engage in meditation techniques as often as three times per day.
Doug Oman of the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues conducted a study of 200 first- and second-year college students to determine if meditation lowered stress and increased forgiveness. The results show that students’ stress levels indeed decreased and their ability to forgive increased. However, like similar studies, Oman’s study acknowledged the small size of the sample groups, thus limiting the outcomes. Nevertheless, studies on meditation’s effect on student attitudes indicate promise in improving student behavior.
Students aren’t alone in benefitting from meditation. Large organizations, including General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and the U.S. Marine Corps, embrace meditation because it has led to an improvement in employees’ decision-making abilities. The New York University Stern School of Business introduced meditation to its MBA students as a way to manage anxiety and react to stressful situations more peaceably.
While evidence supporting meditation in schools isn’t conclusive yet, it’s convincing enough to give quiet time a try. Starting a meditation program is more than just getting students to be quiet for a few minutes. Based on the Visitacion Valley program, Edutopia offers four steps to implement a meditation program:
Convincing faculty, administrators, and parents to begin a meditation program isn’t enough; you also have to convince the students. Meditation can be made a kind of game, especially for younger children. Meditation expert Sarah Wood Vallely suggests three meditation activities:
Empirical evidence suggests that meditation can improve student behavior regardless of age. With more pressures on students than ever, it is important to teach children early how to manage the challenges that they face each day.