Cultivating Mindfulness in an Inner-City School

What if we gave children the tools to be non-reactive in difficult situations?

Photo of Alexandra Phillips
2 7

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

This project was started when I was told by a teacher at another school that "There is just nothing you can do about some of these kids. The behavior problems are a part of their upbringing." This remark stuck with me. I had to believe there was SOME way to reach the students that others said were beyond help. At my school I teach second grade in a classroom where 90% of my students are African-American and 90% are on free or reduced lunch. I had to find a way to help the students who needed me.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Georgia

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Georgia

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Our project is teaching inner-city students how to be mindful of their thoughts and emotions. This project teaches students in grades K-4 how to focus on their emotions and stop a pattern of reactivity. The students at our school live chaotic lives; from the moment they wake up to the second they fall asleep they may experience domestic strife, stressful living situations, and negative cultural images. Introducing mindfulness into the classrooms allows the students to realize that they can control their thoughts and reactions, and find peace within.

We have to teach children that violence is not an acceptable approach to problem solving. This may seem like a "no-brainer", but put yourself in the shoes of an African-American child growing up in Savannah, Georgia. As of June 20th, the city had it's 29th reported homicide of 2016. In 2015 there were 53 homicides, the city's most violent year in a quarter-century. Too many young people in this southern city are finding drugs and violence as an answer to their problems. At Savannah Classical Academy we are trying to be counter-cultural. How can we help these children find a better way of life?  We are providing our students with a topnotch education.  How can we help them deal with conflicts that are sure to arise in life? How can we counteract what their community tells them, which is to react when something negative happens? We believe that we have found a tool to help in this mission: mindfulness. We believe that by teaching our students to be mindful or aware of their thoughts and feelings, they are better equipped to deal with negative situations. We are teaching them how to handle negative self-talk and difficult feelings through guided meditation, and discussions about mindfulness. Giving the students a way to self-regulate their thoughts can provide unbelievable positive effects for children in stressful living situations. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

A second grader is sitting down to take a history test on the Civil War. He knows about the Civil War, he was interested in the lessons, and truly enjoyed learning about it. As the tests are passed out and the teacher reminds the students to stay quiet and respectful during the test, he starts to feel nervous. In his mind he is thinking about how he NEVER does well on these tests. The stress starts to kick in, and he shuts down. He puts his head down and gets mad. The teacher is able to bring the student aside and remind him to be mindful of what's happening right now. She tells him to recognize his feelings. He can stay present in this moment, not listen to his negative self talk, and focus on what he knows.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

This project was piloted in my second grade classroom last year. I was able to use mindfulness activities at various points throughout the day to help students calm themselves. The number of office referrals written over the year diminished by almost 20%. I believe that the techniques we used in class gave the students a way to control their feelings and stay present in the moment. Next year we plan on introducing the Mindfulness Program in six other classrooms in the school. We will chart the success of the program by comparing data (office referrals and office visits) from before mindfulness was being used in the classroom, to after it has been implemented. Using the successful data of the program as a guide, we will work on executing this program throughout our entire school (K-12). The program will be adapted to fit the upper grades as needed.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • less than $1k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

This project requires a minimal budget. Funds would be used to send teachers at our school to mindfulness training, and pay for a yoga teacher to come to the school to teach to the students once a week. Funds would be secured through donors and grants. Once existing teachers were trained, costs would be limited to training incoming teachers.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are a few other organizations that exist that teach mindfulness in schools. The difference between our project and the others is that our program is not for profit. It will simply be put into practice by the teachers at our school to help the students. There are also yoga studios in the area that teach meditation, but our project solely focuses on teaching mindfulness to inner city students at Savannah Classical Academy.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

I think one of the most promising shifts in the wellbeing of children is the focus on healthy eating. There has been a strong cultural push to bring fresh, organic, and healthy foods into people's lives. For a long time, children whose families could not afford to buy vegetables or other organic foods were not taught about the importance of a balanced diet. The connection between healthy eating and emotional and physical well being is widely recognized. Many organizations are making it easier for low-income families to have access to healthy food and recipes.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

My principal, Benjamin Payne.

Program Design Clarity

Our main beneficiary is low-income children in grades kindergarten through fifth grade at Savannah Classical Academy. Our main activities are breathing exercises with the students, and discussions about being aware of our current situation. We do these activities three times a day in the classrooms. The teachers deliver the information about mindfulness and breathing exercises. We also have a yoga instructor who has done recordings of guided meditations, we play these recordings for the students daily.

Community Leadership

We have a team of teachers who are involved in this project. There are seven of us, and we meet on a monthly basis to discuss how the project is working in the classrooms. Each of the teachers gives feedback and we look at how each classroom's behavior has evolved since the implementation of mindfulness in the classroom. We also meet with a licensed social worker and yoga teacher in the community to get training and tips from them.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12

Spread Strategies

The main strategy for making our project work and grow is to have all our K-5 teachers trained in Mindfulness in the Classroom. Having the proper training would allow all of our students to feel the full benefits of this project. Our school would then become a model to other school's in the district. I would then train other teachers and/or administrators in the county on how to implement a mindfulness program at their school.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

By teaching students to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings we are teaching them to be in control of their emotions. When a child has a strong grasp on their feelings, by finding yourself you gain a sense of self. When a student can control their negative reactions they will have more positive relationships and feel a sense of belonging. The children will find purpose by being able to focus and be clear on their tasks and future goals.

Leadership Story

I am above all else a teacher. There is so much knowledge I want to impart on my students, but the most important messages aren't a part of the curriculum. I'm dealt a tough task of keeping my students safe and teaching them to be virtuous people, but we are living in a community that goes against this message. I've found the tool to help so many of my students. I can finally reach my students in a big way. I can help them control their thoughts and ease anxiety. I believe this tool alone will prove invaluable. Through my training with Mindful Schools I've introduced Mindfulness to our school.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

None (yet!)

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)


Join the conversation:

Photo of Christine Mason

I believe you are on the right track! Changing a culture is intense. At CEI we believe that mindfulness, yoga, and meditation are important factors -- along with student voice, cultural responsiveness, student engagement, and building on 21st century strategies (like STEM and neuroscience.) Our tool might have some value for you. When you have a chance, check us out (the CEI Heart Centered 21st Century Initiative). Perhaps there is a way to collaborate! @edimprove

View all comments