Study: Meditating in Chicago schools improving grades, helping with discipline

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FOX 32 NEWS - The Chicago Public Schools are taking part in a 3-million dollar mindfulness project to see if it can have a positive effect on classrooms throughout the city.

It’s targeting schools in high poverty areas on the south and west sides.

Taking time to meditate isn't normally part of a typical school day. But for the kids at Avondale Elementary School, short meditation periods happen not once but three times a day.

"It's right after breakfast, right after lunch and recess and it gets them calm,” said Principal Evelyn Roman.

That’s why it's called the “Calm Classroom.” Jori Griffth is with the Luster Learning Institute, creators of the Calm Classroom technique.

"We've seen huge behavior improvement...academic improvements and overall school cultures that are more peaceful and safe,” Griffith said.

The Calm Classroom is a social and emotional learning program. It’s made up of mindfulness learning techniques in the form of breathing, stretching, relaxation and focusing exercises. Calm Classrooms have been implemented in more than 100 Chicago schools since 2007, but the Erickson Institute is heading the first study of its kind to see how effective it is. The five year study is only in its second year, but so far, results are looking good, not only with higher academic scores, but with discipline.

"We've had reports that some kids who have had highest level of tantrums 6 times a day…their getting out of control. But now, it's down to none or maybe one,” said Amanda Moreno of the Erickson Institute.

The calm spots in the classroom include two green beanbag chairs and green tablets that display two minute videos of nature scenes. Students are allowed to go to these calm spots anytime during the school day to relax, or teachers can send them to the calm spots as a deterrent to going to the principal’s office and an alternative to time outs. The study is focusing on kindergarten through second grade and in schools in high poverty areas where high stress levels exist due to factors such as gun violence.

"It's not a magic cure it doesn't solve the larger problems but it certainly is a helpful part of the processing and coping with it,” said Moreno.

Moreno says the biggest advantage is it gives kids control of their own actions and makes them realize they are in charge of how they feel and react. The Calm Classroom also appears to be making life easier on teachers and the school as a community.