Existing Mindfulness Programs
A growing number of schools are using “mindfulness trainings” to combat increasing levels of anxiety, stress, social conflict, and attention disorder among their students. While the students of the Mindful Revolution plan to work with West Philly High School to eventually study the effects of the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!), there are a handful of other mindfulness programs for schools that are worth our consideration and these are highlighted below.
The Inner Kids Foundation came about because Steve Reidman, a teacher from Toluca Lake Elementary School, was concerned by the conflicts developing in his classroom and his difficulty managing these escalating problems. He confided in his personal friend Susan Kaiser about his concerns and she volunteered to teach mindfulness, a technique she’d taught to kids at a local boys and girls club, to his classroom. Reidman’s classroom had a very positive experience with the mindulness training and this initial success helped it spread to other classrooms at the school and helped launch Kaiser’s career as founder and director of InnerKids, a non-profit funded through private grants.
It’s mission is “to promote a more peaceful, harmonious, and compassionate society.” The Inner Kids Foundation has taught mindful awareness programs in under-served schools and neighborhoods in Los Angeles since 2000. Kaiser’s curriculum is inspired by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Stress Reduction Programs at the University of Massachusetts. InnerKids has served hundreds of schools across the country. They have chosen to focus on children, teen, and family programs because “brain plasticity is greatest during the developmental periods of childhood, hence, nurturing social, emotional, physical and intellectual well-being early in the lifespan may yield the greatest impact on mental health and well-being.” While they are doing programs all over – New York, California, the Midwest, this organization focuses on Los Angeles, where it was founded in 2001, because they believe “that local people and groups are best equipped to respond to challenges within their communities, and this is our home.”
In the spring of 2006, InnerKids taught approximately 125 students in 4 separate facilities ages 3 through 12. With these students, InnerKids conducted a thorough internal evaluation of their program (using pre-and-post program student, teacher and parent questionnaires) and analysis of the data collected showed a significant benefit to the students and school communities that were served.
This program is geared towards pre-K to middle school-aged students; while it has received a lot of attention for its success, it would not be the most appropriate for West Philadelphia High School. Its self-directed games and activities are not as developmentally appropriate for high school students. However, given that the curriculum is based in the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, perhaps in the future this program will extend into high schools.
Wellness Works in Schools was created and launched by Kinder Associates LLC in 2001. It offers mindfulness programming in the Lancaster and Reading Public School System – not too far away from Philadelphia!
According to Wellness Works program materials program materials, the program is “designed to motivate, educate, and support students, teachers and families in developing the mental, emotional, physical, and social competencies needed to handle life’s challenges healthfully, across school,home, work and community. Wellness Works presents mindful awareness practices and curriculums to promote positive nervous system function and behavioral expression” (Kinder Associates LLC, 2009, pp 1-2). Additional information about Wellness Works is available on their website: http://www.wellnessworksinschools.com/
According to the website listed above, the curriculum includes:
- Group discussion of selected mindbody health and wellness topics e.g. handling challenging emotions, mental fitness, strength (inner and outer), the nature of anger, resiliency, hope, courage and more.
- Mindfulness skills (focused awareness, attention and concentration) to shift one’s focus from external stimuli to internal awareness and sort out thoughts, emotions and impulses in a non-reactive way
- Healthy breathing promotes slowing down, calming and becoming present
- Mindful movements strengthen the mindbody connection by releasing tension and stress
- Relaxation promotes balance and stability
- Group reflection allows students an opportunity for inquiry and comment
These components are taught in a series of sessions (45-50 minutes in length)
Wellness works also offers teacher programs for professional development, which help teachers respond to their own stress and challenges, and programs for classroom integration teacher training, which will strengthen teachers’ mindfulness skills and deepen their understanding so that they can transfer these skills to their students and classroom environment.
Similar to InnerKids, Wellness Works is strongly influenced by training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and a continuing connection with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society.
Wellness Works conducted an observational research study on the effects of their programming on six students. Here is a link to the study: The Effects of Mindful Awareness Teaching Practices in the Wellness Works in Schools TM Program on the Cognitive, Physical and Social Behaviors of Students with Learning and Emotional Disabilities in an Urban, Low Income Middle School.
This study concludes that the data collected strongly supports the positive effects of mindful awareness teaching on student cognitive, physical, and social behaviors for both learning support and emotional support students during mindful awareness lessons. A limitation of this study is that it did not investigate the transference of the positive changes in students’ behaviors to their regular classrooms. If we are able to study the YES! program at West Philadelphia High School, it will be important for us to do just that.
Kinder, M. (2008). Wellness Works in SchoolsTM. Lancaster, PA: Kinder Associates
Additional Programs to be discussed: