Students at ‘overachieving’ school getting anti-stress lessons

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The 2005 book called “The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids” was written about students at the prestigious Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., where kids are known to try to out-achieve themselves and each other with something of a passion.

Now, my Post colleague Robert McCartney writes in this column that some of these “overworked, college-obsessed students” are going to get “mindfulness” training at school to help them relax and focus. For half an hour each week starting in November, a group of teens in a pilot program will learn how to, as McCartney describes it, “sit quietly, close their eyes, pay attention to their breathing and grow more aware of both physical sensations and emotions.”

If it sounds touchy-feely to you, it is, but that doesn’t make it a bad idea. In fact, a growing number of schools are incorporating “mindfulness” exercises into class time to help kids relax, which research has shown actually helps them focus.

The nonprofit organization that is doing the pilot program at Whitman, Minds Inc., has worked with several other schools in the Washington region, including E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in the District. Other organizations provide the training as well, and it isn’t only happening in K-12 schools. A number of colleges teach it as part of for-credit classes.

At Lafayette Elementary School in the District, most of the students there have similar “mindful” exercises each week as part of a social and emotional learning program called “Teaching Peace.” The school’s Web site explains:

We begin with ringing the ting-sha bells. These lovely Tibetan bells set the quiet tone for Peace Class. While we listen to the bells we close our eyes and begin our mindfulness practice. Sometimes we focus on our breathing, sometimes we focus our minds on listening closely to the sound of the bells and raise our hands when we can no longer hear them. We continue this quiet, peaceful mood as we transition into doing the Mindful Movements, a moving meditation created by Thich Nhat Hahn. Mindfulness practice has many benefits. Mindfulness training can help to enhance children’s attention and focus, improve memory, improve self-control and awareness of our own feelings and the feelings of others. Mindfulness practice is becoming more and more popular in schools because research has proven that creating deliberate moments of quiet and focus in a school day can greatly decrease anger, violence and anxiety in school.

The real question is why are kids only doing this once a week in school. How about once a day? Also, it wouldn’t have hurt the cause to have another name for it other than “mindfulness,” which I realize is a psychological concept about focus, but still …

Read McCartney’s whole column here.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 10, 2013