Ignite Achievement Academy @ Elder Diggs 42 has a reputation for doing things their own way, and they have found an innovative approach to keep students calm and focused: meditation.
Three times a day at Ignite, the entire school stops and spends a few moments meditating. These “mindfulness moments” allow students an opportunity to spend time thinking about their day in a targeted, forward-facing or reflective way.
With a background in martial arts and an interest in neuroscience and epigenetics, Ignite Founder and Head of School Shy-Quon Ely looked to find a way to help keep students engaged and interested in school.
“One of the data points I’ve come across says we lose our focus six to 10 times per minute. That’s significant if we’re talking about acquiring knowledge,” he said. “We want to be able to concentrate and focus our mind on a task. Mindfulness helps us to develop that ability to focus our attention and focus our concentration.”
Drawing upon his experiences with meditation and focused breathing, Ely established mindfulness moments, scheduled as daily sessions throughout the day: one during morning announcements, one at midday, and a more reflective session at the end of the school day. The sessions allow visualization and positive reflection through the day, allowing students to focus on what they hope to accomplish, let go of stresses and concerns, and set goals for what they hope to accomplish throughout the day.
Meditation helps students get to know themselves better, letting them learn to cope, and visualizing themselves preparing for and accomplishing tasks, Ely said. The goal is to channel energy and attention in productive and meaningful ways.
“These moments are important for children who are developing social skills and wrestling with social concepts and ideas about their own motivations and behaviors,” Ely said. “That time to reflect is important.”
Meditation has been stressed since the beginning of the year, when teachers and staff showed students breathing exercises and meditation techniques, and how to release stresses and concentrate on concepts like empathy. Those concepts have been expanded on throughout the year.
“We teach them to breathe in the belly, deep diaphragm breathing, and remind them that no matter what has been going on before we still have time to, to make today a great day,” he said. “And it just recharges them, imagining the feeling of their being their best selves.”
Classrooms also have a “cool-down corner” where students can stop and meditate at other times when they need a break, and the school has a “mindfulness room,” where the lighting is lower and the atmosphere lends itself to a more relaxed, focused mindset.
“When a student gets, as we say, angry, mad, sad, frustrated, upset, overwhelmed, moody, confused, bored or too excited, and they need to check in with themselves, then they can do that in their corner,” he said.
And Ignite students are responding positively, and the effects are visible.
“Behavior issues are reducing,” Ely said. “Our kids are showing verbal and physical signs of empathy. They are requesting meditation. The language they’ve acquired of mindfulness and meditation are positive signs.”
Fifth-grader Nyviar Green said meditation helps her stop and focus when she might be feeling stressed out.
“It helps me get in the right mindset so I can focus on how the rest of my day can go,” she said.
And while the school is enjoying those positive, uplifting benefits, the long-term effects will also be measurable, Ely said.
“This is not something that works like a pill. It’s not something I do today and tomorrow my mind is crystal clear. It takes time,” he said. “I’m curious to see how it continues to impact our school from a social, emotional, intellectual and academic perspective.”