By Amanda Bates
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Students at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School are swapping detention for meditation thanks to the Holistic Life Foundation’s Mindful Moments Program.
Mindful Moments provides students a space to learn breathing techniques, yoga exercises and better problem solving skills, co-founder Andy Gonzales said.
Students at Coleman have access to a Mindful Meditation or “cool down” room. The purpose of the room is to help students who may be upset over a disturbance in class work through their anger in a positive and helpful way, Gonzales said.
Inside the “cool down” room a staff member acts as an active listener, helping the student diagnose the issue and teaching them how to resolve it positively, Gonzales said.
“Instead of punishing him, we’ll listen to him,” Gonzales said. “Now, he’s calmed down and can get through the day.”
The Mindful Moments Program includes a recording that is played over the PA system both at the beginning and end of the school day. The recording includes a breathing technique, movement practice and meditation, Gonzales said.
These new skills seem to be making a difference at Coleman. During the 2013-2014 school year, there were zero suspensions, Gonzales said.
Coleman Elementary also has an after-school program that, in addition to the yoga and meditation exercise, provides dinner and enrichment classes, said Adam Candelaria, the Holistic Life Foundation site coordinator for Coleman.
The enrichment programs include opportunities for the kids to learn drumming, theater, woodworking, gardening, soccer, basketball, and systema, a Russian martial art, Candelaria said.
Candelaria said he believes that the enrichment programs allow the kids to experience different things that they may not have had a chance to experience without the program.
The after-school program is free to the parents and currently has 154 students enrolled, which Candelaria said is almost half of the school.
Coleman Elementary is located near the epicenter of the demonstrations and riots that followed the death of Freddie Grey in 2015.
“A lot of these kids have trauma that they don’t know how to deal with,” Candelaria said. “We’re giving them tools to cope with their issues.”
Gonzales said that the goal of the program didn’t begin with hopes of reducing detention or suspensions.
“We were just trying to give them the skills to take care of themselves,” he said.
Gonzales is one of the founders who started the program in 2001. Since then, the program has reached almost 20 elementary and high schools in Baltimore City, with two of the schools adapting the Mindful Moments room, he said.
Gonzales said the program has affected the community as well.
Gonzales said that multiple parents have approached him saying that if their child sees them becoming angry or upset, they teach them the breathing exercised they learned from the program.
The Holistic Life Foundation is a non-profit that offers many different programs depending on what the school needs. Some programs include an after-school program or select visits throughout the week by staff members.
Gonzales said that some schools train their own faculty to instruct the program, while others are led by Holistic Life Foundation members.
He said the program’s staff are role models to the students. Because of this, the students learn accountability for their actions, Gonzales said.
“They know that we love them,” he said. “We’re their friends and they don’t want to let us down.”