Students at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School participate in breathing exercises during a Holistic Life Foundation program. (Colby Ware/Open Society Institute-Baltimore)
Students at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School participate in breathing exercises during a Holistic Life Foundation program. (Colby Ware/Open Society Institute-Baltimore)

Black high school students remain twice as likely to be suspended as white or Hispanic high school students, according to a 2018 study commissioned by NPR.

A June 2019 University of Kentucky doctoral graduate’s comprehensive research on the subject found that African American students receive discipline the most by detention, suspensions and expulsions.

“The results showed robust evidence of persistent discrepancies in disciplinary practices across ethnic and racial groups, with African American students and students indicating two or more races found to be at increased risk for being suspended and expelled compared to white students in both middle and high schools,” said Albert Ksinan, the principal investigator for the University of Kentucky’s study, which was published in the Journal of School Psychology.

“Further, the risk for African American students and students indicating two or more races were higher in schools with higher poverty rates and a greater ethnic/racial diversity of the student population,” Ksinan said. “Schools with students characterized by higher poverty and ones smaller in size reported higher rates of school disciplinary actions.”

In what has proved successful, two Baltimore schools have implemented a unique program, thanks partly to the Holistic Life Foundation, a local social services nonprofit.

Patterson High School and Robert W. Coleman Elementary School have instituted the “Mindful Moment Room.”

The room was initially for students who got into trouble.

“Now, we rarely see children [there] for disciplinary issues anymore,” Coleman Elementary School Principal Carlillian Thompson told CNN. “It’s made a huge impact.”

Most important, in the four years since instituting the room, there have been no suspensions, Thompson said.

Andres Gonzalez, Holistic Life Foundation’s co-founder and director of marketing and communication, told Our Children, the PTA’s national magazine, that he saw the impact that yoga and meditation had on what were previously seen as “problem kids” in the school.

“Instead of us picking up 10 kids from detention, we were picking seven, then we were picking up five, and soon, we weren’t picking up any kids,” Gonzalez said.

At Coleman Elementary, the day begins and ends with a 15-minute guided meditation over the intercom. Students also receive an opportunity to practice yoga during and after school.

Although the room remains a place to refocus a student who might be disruptive, school officials said most look forward to utilizing the room as “an oasis of calm.”

Students are assigned a mindfulness instructor who engages them in a targeted discussion.

Five minutes of active listening and discussion takes place before 15 minutes of what officials call mindfulness practice. That includes breathing exercises and even yoga.

“Since we’ve been doing [the Mindful Moment Room] here at Patterson, it doesn’t take away from what we’re trying to do, and the students are better able to get their work done,” Patterson High School Principal Vance Benton told Our Children.

In the first year of implementing the Mindful Moment Room at Patterson High School, suspensions and verbal and physical altercations all decreased by more than half.

At the same time, attendance rates increased by three percent, and grade promotions increased by 19 percent and average student GPA increased by one-half percent.

“The mindful moment program has had a very positive effect on Patterson High School,” Benton said. “Students are conscious of the need and are open to the Mindful Moment practice.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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