Stress in schools in the United States is high. In urban areas, the detrimental effects of poverty can cause high school drop-out rates to approach and even exceed 50%. The pressure to increase test scores affects teachers and children in all schools. The competition to gain admittance to college causes turmoil for students throughout the country. In short, stress impairs the effectiveness of our educational system. Common problems in our schools include:
In addition, attention spans are rapidly declining due to the “instant gratification” children and adults are often taught through the media and the rapidly-evolving world around them.
Studies have shown that stress inhibits key parts of the brain that are necessary for learning. Before we address how and what children are taught, we must first ensure that they are indeed prepared to learn. Children with less stress in their lives and those who can focus and handle stress they face outperform their peers. This is one cause of the achievement gap, which widens continually as children grow. Why not address it at its roots?
The problems facing education today are complex, often take students and educators out of the present moment and require a wide variety of solutions. But no matter what the solutions, we must ensure that children are present for their lessons in order to maximize their learning potential. That is the goal of our adult courses and in-school program.
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We use a simple but powerful technique called mindfulness to teach children how to focus, manage their emotions, handle their stress, and resolve conflicts. Instead of simply telling children to do these things, we show children how — through direct experience. It allows children to make wiser decisions in the heat of the moment, rather than only in retrospect.
Mindfulness develops an “inner compass” – a true lifetime skill that is highly preventive. Understanding one’s own thoughts and feelings can save massive future expenditures to address juvenile delinquency, poor academic performance, stress, mental disorders, etc… In addition, having a mind that is calm, focused, and empathetic allows children to increase their scholastic aptitude, particularly if they experience a high degree of stress outside of school.
The skills we learn as children are the ones at which we become best, which is why we begin teaching children in elementary school. All children can benefit from the vital skill of mindfulness, which helps them succeed at school and in life.
Our mission is to help lead the integration of mindfulness into education. We are a non-profit organization that offers professional training, in-class instruction, and other resources to support mindfulness in education.
Our in-school program, which we have taught to over 18,000 children in 53 schools since 2007, brings improvements in concentration, attention, and empathy among students, while building a climate of calm in the classroom. And our Adult Courses have taught thousands of educators, social workers, psychologists, parents, and other adults how to use mindfulness effectively with children. Our trainees report that they teach mindfulness to over 10,000 children each year.
The idea for a mindfulness program was sparked in Spring 2007 when a visiting therapist working at Park Day School and the neighboring public school commented that the students at the public school were in tremendous turmoil. Laurie Grossman, Park’s Outreach Coordinator, and Richard Shankman, a long-time mindfulness teacher, responded by creating a program to bring mindfulness training to the children and their teachers. The program began almost immediately with a 5-week pilot run.
The results were so inspiring that mindfulness teacher Megan Cowan immediately implemented the program in another local school. The responses from students, principals, and teachers were so encouraging that Laurie, Richard, and Megan decided to establish the Community Partnership for Mindfulness in Education (now Mindful Schools) as a major project of Park’s outreach program.
Over time, the program grew and attracted more staff, including enthusiastic mindfulness teacher Kate Janke and Randima Fernando, a Silicon Valley product manager eager to help the work realize its enormous potential. The program eventually grew large enough to become an independent non-profit organization in October 2010.
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