On May 6th, students at Burton High School in San Francisco meditated together with celebrities David Lynch, Russell Brand and baseball star Barry Zito.
The event marked the 6th year of the district’s Quiet Time program, which uses Transcendental Meditation techniques to help students focus and stay calm. The program is sponsored at dozens of SF schools by the David Lynch Foundation.
A remarkable success story
There is perhaps no other school which better illustrates the success of the Quiet Time program than Visitacion Valley Middle School.
There was a time when that school could have featured in a gritty US crime drama. Surrounded by drugs and gang violence, the kids were stressed out and agitated. One day children came in to find three dead bodies dumped in the schoolyard. “In 2006 there were 38 killings in our neighbourhood,” says Barry O’Driscoll, the school’s head of physical education (PE). He says the lives of students were infected by violence in the community, and several fights would break out every day.
In 2007, Quiet Time was brought in to meet some of these challenges.
“When I first heard about it I thought it probably wasn’t going to work,” says O’Driscoll. “We get thrown a new thing every couple of years so I didn’t put too much faith in it.” But in April, just a month after meditation began, teachers noticed changes in behaviour. “Students seemed happy,” says O’Driscoll. “They worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of fights fell dramatically.”
VIDEO: Quiet Time at Visitacion Valley Middle School
Countering stress and its ill effects at school
In low-income urban schools, traumatic stress is a reality for millions of children who grow up in an oppressive climate of poverty, violence, and fear. This stress impedes learning and undermines physical and mental health:
- 25% of teenagers suffer from anxiety disorders
- 6.5 million children struggle from disabilities that impair their ability to learn
- One in four high school students has been offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school property
- One in three children are either overweight or obese
- Nearly 3 million children receive medication for ADHD
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers
High stress levels also damage teachers and educators, resulting in extremely high burnout rates.
To counter this, Quiet Time provides students with two 15-minute periods of Transcendental Meditation each day to help balance their lives and improve their readiness to learn. This schoolwide program complements existing educational strategies by improving the physiological underpinnings of learning and behavior.
As Quiet Time is increasingly supported by research evidence confirming better student behavior and academic performance, several schools in San Francisco school district have integrated it into their curriculum. “It has improved attendance and test scores while reducing suspensions,“ confirms San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza.