According to recent news articles by Newsweek and the New York Times, the students in detention at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore aren’t staring at chalkboards and walls during detention—they’re meditating and practicing yoga as part of an after-school program.
Here’s how the project, created by the Holistic Life Foundation, works: Holistic Me hosts 120 male and female students in a program that runs from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. and involves yoga, breathing exercises and meditative activities. Disruptive students are brought to a special place called the Mindful Moment Room for breathing practices and discussion with a counselor and are instructed on how to manage their emotions.
The project, which focuses on pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, approaches punishment in an entirely different way and reports an incredible result: zero suspensions in the last year. Comparatively, the 2013–2014 school year had four suspensions.
“With the first year being so successful, I started seeing a difference in their behaviors. Instead of the students fighting or lashing out, they started to use words to solve their problems,” the school principal, Carlillian Thompson, told the Holistic Life Foundation in a news interview. “We see the success rate of those students who began in the program now. They are middle school students who are very successful; they come back and participate in the program.”
The nonprofit was started by two brothers, Atman and Ali Smith, and their friend Andres Gonzalez in 2001 in their hometown of Baltimore. Their goal was to provide kids from a low-income and high-crime-rate neighborhood with the tools to cope with stress and anger. Over the past 15 years, students of the program have graduated and transitioned into mentor roles—former students now make up 50 percent of its workforce.