During the 2015-16 school year in Des Moines (IA), black students accounted for 41 percent of all disciplinary referrals, but make up only 18.3 percent of district enrollment. Across the country, minority students receive disproportionately more suspensions and expulsions than their white peers. Civil right activists have drawn attention to the associated social concern of "school-to-prison" pipeline and even Former President Barack Obama has called for changes in approaches to school discipline. Unfortunately, there is little agreement on what that change should look like. In fact, some parents and teachers are raising concerns about the lack of disciplinary action in Des Moines, where school leaders are changing the district’s use of discipline to sharply reduce and eliminate expulsions.
For years the standard practice was to kick misbehaving students out of the classroom but this often leads to the students falling behind academically and that approach does little to address the underlying issues of poor behavior. One approach that does seem to rally administrator, teacher and parent support is visible at Edmunds Elementary. The approach at Edmunds is actually part of a larger trend around the country - schools are using yoga and mindfulness instead of punitive actions to address the underlying causes of disruptive classroom behavior which can include stress and trauma and a lack of social and emotional skills such as self-awareness and self-management. In an article titled, The Movement of Meditation Replacing Detention In Schools, Newsweek recently featured a Baltimore School which teaches students ways to manage their anger through yoga and meditation. And, a Forbes article titled, The Benefits of Meditation for Children, followed shortly thereafter.
Edmunds has seen dramatic results as a result of school wide Yoga 4 Classrooms implementation, including reductions in office referrals from 1,195 in 2012-13 to just 303 in 2015-16. Principal Jaynette Rittman says that suspensions have been virtually eliminated. Fourth-grader Libby Latimore likes to imagine herself alone in a quiet space, away from the noise of school or home. The deep breaths help, especially after being angry. "It helps you forget about it for school," she said. "I calm myself down before I explode."
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