Why Mindfulness Belongs in Middle Schools

Article 4 mins Meditation & Mindfulness
The students learned to be better citizens and I learned to be a better educator.
Why Mindfulness Belongs in Middle Schools

In 2013, I cofounded a middle school in East New York, Brooklyn. The neighborhood was very challenging — there were a lot of rough and tough things going on — and many of the kids didn’t realize they had any agency over their lives.

Middle schoolers are at an interesting age where they’re trying to figure out how they want to show up in the world. They have these beautiful personalities and they’re smart enough to know what’s going on, and this is really where they often solidify what direction they’re going to go.

There was a real opportunity to make a difference in the paths they decided to walk down. I chose to do that by introducing mindfulness to the classroom.

Watching the Metamorphosis

When Vista Academy opened, the goal was to combine character education alongside academics. I taught a class called “Decision Making Period” that focused on building character in a fun, engaging, accessible way. The students were learning about self-love and how to create different systems and customs and habits. The ultimate goal was to give them the tools to create a lifestyle that would support them in living their best lives. They approached this class with curiosity because it was something so new for them — and coming from a place of curiosity is the perfect starting point for any mindfulness journey.

The entire school started each morning with a guided meditation. This made a big impact. I watched kids come in with a low level of focus or a weak interest in education who made a 180-degree switch to understand they had the ability to make something of themselves. Teaching in an inner-city school, it was super important for me to get that message to the kids. So many of them didn’t have anyone who really cared for them or modeled positive behavior.

I was able to see these mindfulness tools affect students in different ways. I recall a student coming in from the Dominican Republic who wasn’t fluent in English and wasn’t confident in their presentation of themselves, and with the mindfulness practice, I saw their confidence soar. Another student made it to the one of the top performing arts high schools, LaGuardia, and did that with no formal training — just an awakening to know they were capable.

Feeding Off Each Other

As an educator, mindfulness was critical for my own wellbeing. Seeing how the kids were able to transform their mindsets in turn energized me and made me want to get more creative and go even deeper into my own practice in order to learn more that I could then pass along. I became even more passionate about making mindfulness a tradition in our school, which had wonderful ripple effects throughout the community.

Prior to jumping into the chaos of a school day — no matter what, dealing with hundreds of middle schoolers is always a bit chaotic! — meditation was something I could do to center myself. Whenever I found my emotions fluctuating up or down, I always had that tool to bring myself back into balance.

Mindfulness also really allowed me to be able to go into different energies. In school, there were times I needed to be high energy and turn up, but once that class was gone and I had a new class, I had to re-center and refocus because that same energy might not be needed for the next class. Mindfulness gave me the awareness to be able to come in and out of different energies and different states.

Because of this wellness path we walked together, the students learned to be better citizens and I learned to be a better educator. While there are many wonderful mindfulness instructors out there, I will always believe that my biggest inspiration is the kids I’ve had an opportunity to teach. 

About the author

Curtis Smith

Curtis Smith

Motivational speaker and educator Curtis Smith has transformed thousands of lives by using music, movement, art and writing to activate the science-based benefits of mindfulness. Now the founder of Moment of Mindfulness, Smith has expanded his portfolio of clients to communities that benefit from culturally responsive mindfulness tools.
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