By Sam Piha
Laurie Grossman of Mindful Impact has been bringing mindfulness training to young people in low income classrooms for many years. She has recently partnered with Temescal Associates and Aspiranet to pilot mindfulness training in Oakland Unified School District afterschool programs. Her full bio is below our interview with Ms. Grossman.
Q: What have we learned from the assessment of mindfulness training for young people?
A: One of the interesting aspects of assessing mindfulness programs for elementary school students is that surveys basically provided the same results over and over again at different schools. In general, the program’s effectiveness was more dramatic at underserved schools compared with affluent schools, however, all students were greatly impacted.
Surveys demonstrated that more than 90% of teachers said they had benefitted personally and would continue using mindfulness in their classes. Teachers said 80% their students benefitted from mindfulness. Over 90% of students said that mindfulness has helped them in their life in some way and 85% said they would use mindfulness in the future. 60% said mindfulness helps them calm down and helps them focus better in the classroom. Over 50% said it helps them make better decisions and the same percentage teach mindfulness to someone outside of school.
Gina Biegel, a mindfulness researcher and founder of Stressed Teens conducted a study in Oakland with 80 students. According to a computerized attention task given before and after a four hour mindfulness program delivered over five weeks, students’ attention improved.
Q: Are there long term impacts of mindfulness training for children?
A: Mindfulness training for children is a relatively new field and long-term studies have not yet been conducted. That said, there is much anecdotal evidence that many students who learn mindfulness continue to use it after lessons are concluded. Over fifty percent of students who received a 15 lesson 3 and ¾ hour program over five or eight weeks teach someone outside of school how to practice mindfulness. Recently a parent told me that her young teen practiced mindfulness with her younger siblings to calm them down and put them to bed. The mom asked where she had learned mindfulness and she said “in-school.” The young teen learned mindfulness in her elementary school three years ago. When a large funder was coming to review our program, we surveyed schools where we had conducted the program years before. A few new teachers had mentioned observing their students practicing mindfulness without really understanding what it was about. Mindfulness is like riding a bike, once you know how to do it, you will always know how to do it; remembering to do it is what is important. Undoubtedly, mindfulness would be more effective for children if teachers continued the program once outside consultants left. Some do and some do not. This is an important aspect of teaching mindfulness that must be addressed.
Q: Do you think mindfulness training would be effective in afterschool programs?
A: Doing homework, engaging in physical activities, art and music, and
special projects all require focus. Providing mindfulness training in after-school programs could help children concentrate on the activities at hand. Because mindfulness enhances impulse control, students are more able to collaborate with others and pause if something doesn’t go exactly the way they want it to. Because after-school is not as structured as the classroom, students have more opportunities to make decisions and mindfulness helps students make better decisions. Mindfulness helps build community and could enhance relationships in after-school programs. Once students learn the basic practices of mindfulness, they can lead sessions helping to maintain mindfulness throughout the year.
Q: How does mindfulness align with the LIAS learning principles?
A: The LIAS principles are vital for learning and mindfulness supports each of them. Mindfulness is awareness. When one is active, one must be aware of how one moves, engages with others and conducts oneself. Mindfulness encourages moment to moment awareness and engagement regardless of the activity. Collaboration requires that one is aware of oneself but also of others; we have been told that mindfulness has reduced conflict on the yard and in classrooms. When one practices mindfulness one is engaged and often sees things anew, so students may find special meaning in activities by paying attention to how they are doing what they are doing. This attention and focus enables students to become more capable and masterful and open to new experiences, expanding their horizons.
Q: Do you see training mindfulness in afterschool programs as a way to bring mindfulness into the school day?
A: If after-school staff are trained in mindfulness and then trained to teach it, they could eventually be mindfulness teachers for the classrooms. This could take a few years but would serve a variety of purposes. First of all, it would help link after-school and the day program, and provide more clout to the after-school staff. Secondly, funding could be sought to pay after-school teachers to teach mindfulness in classrooms during the day. Since after-school providers are often paid meager wages, this might be a way to improve their pay and keep them from leaving, reducing turnover of staff.
Laurie Grossman has spent her career seeking social justice and educational equity for low-income children and communities. At Park Day School in Oakland, California, she created a Community Outreach Program to develop public/private partnerships for 19 years, Mindful Schools being the most recent. With a group of committed colleagues, Grossman and team brought mindfulness programs to 11,000 children in 42 schools (71% of them low-income students) and training to 1,500 educators before separating from Park Day School to become an independent non-profit organization. Grossman has recently founded a new organization, Mindful Impact, to continue her commitment to bringing mindfulness to low-income communities. She is currently working with Temescal Associates to take mindfulness programs into afterschool settings.