Some Ohio schools embracing ‘Mindfulness' to give students a brain break

Posted at 6:55 AM, Apr 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-13 11:19:17-04

"Breathe in."

It's a simple instruction Mrs. Dragish gives to her first-grade class.

Part way through the morning and before moving on with the rest of their day, her elementary class in Warren, Ohio is taking a break—a brain break that is.

“When emotions escalate between students or within the room, that is a perfect opportunity for a de-escalation strategy," said Steve Chiaro, Superintendent of Warren city schools.

It's called mindfulness, a daily practice of meditation and self-reflection for teachers and their students.

“It really works well in our primary grades towards responsible decision-making," Chiaro says.

It's been catching on in schools across the country. There’s even been a video of a school in Baltimore that has gone viral, showing how the teacher replaced detention with meditation, and it’s worked.

And now, the method is coming to Ohio.

“We know from the research as well when his social and emotional learning in a concrete way over a two-year period. We see all kinds of good things happening," Linda Lintieri, Senior Program Advisor for the program responsible for teaching Warren City School teachers how to lead their students in the mindfulness practice.

Breathing, stretching, even setting aside a special "peace corner" for kids to work out their problems in a constructive way, are all part of the message taught by the program to reduce stress, and enhance learning.

“It most certainly needs to be taught. Taught by modeling, taught through reading," said Superintendent Chiaro.,

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan even wrote a book about the practice, and he has been pushing for more school districts in the state to adopt it.

“There’s been a lot of success in this area. We've seen through a recent study where kids have shown about 11 percentile increase in their test scores which literally closes the achievement gap," he said.

Districts like Warren and Wooster City Schools have been utilizing The program for years now, but Congressman Ryan has had a hard time finding other districts to sign on. He says some parents oppose it because they are worried it comes too close to feeling like a religion. But he explains that's not what it's about.

“It makes common sense that if these kids aren't felt cared about, loved, learn how to de-escalate themselves emotionally, that they're not going to be good students, and they're not going to be good citizens and so this approach in my mind is really teaching the whole child," said Congressman Ryan.

And kids I spoke to in Ms. Dragish's 1st-grade class, say they feel the quiet time is beneficial.

"It calms me down and helps me breathe, helps me breathe better," said first-grader Lily Titton.

Her friend Destiny Croffkeith agreed,

“I like shaking my hands and breathing in," she said.

Right now, the program is utilized in most grades Kindergarten through fifth grade in Warren City Schools, but over the next year, they plan to expand the mindfulness practice to middle school and 9th-grade students as well.