When the bells sound twice a day at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, students who used to be too rowdy to even sit still close their eyes and spend 15 minutes clearing their minds. They’re practicing transcendental meditation in the classroom. Visitacion Valley is one of a handful of Bay Area schools that has instituted a Quiet Time program as a way to reduce stress and help kids focus. At this school, which is in an area that boasts the second-highest crime rate in the city, and where gunfire can be heard throughout the day, the program has worked miracles.
“When I arrived at [Visitacion Valley] 13 years ago, it had the highest absenteeism rate, the highest suspension rate, the highest teacher turnover rate, and the lowest academic achievement rate,” says James Dierke, the Visitacion Valley principal who brought the program to life in 2007. Less than a year after starting Quiet Time, which is in part funded by the David Lynch Foundation, attendance rates at the school climbed to 98.3 percent. The number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. And standardized test scores and grade point averages increased significantly. Administrators credit meditation with some of those gains.
“The research is showing big effects on students’ performance,” Richard Carranza, San Francisco schools superintendent, told SFGate. “Our new accountability standards, which we’re developing in tandem with other big California districts, emphasize the importance of social-emotional factors in improving kids’ lives, not just academics. That’s where Quiet Time can have a major impact, and I’d like to see it expand well beyond a handful of schools.”