Mindfulness. It Matters. – by Robert Schenosky

As a longtime coach, mindfulness is not necessarily something that immediately comes to mind when working with middle school and high school student-athletes.  However, when in the classroom, we are […]

May 9, 2017 // EYEJ // No Comments //

As a longtime coach, mindfulness is not necessarily something that immediately comes to mind when working with middle school and high school student-athletes.  However, when in the classroom, we are finding it to be an invaluable tool in getting the students to focus and learn.

In working with Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) students, we begin each session with a mindfulness exercise, such as focused breathing, to enable the students to clear their minds of concerns or issues in and out of school.  The term toxic stress is widely used when talking about inner city schools and the challenges many of the students face daily, such as drugs, gangs and violence in the neighborhood, and bullying at school.

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More than half of our male students have acknowledged that they have been recruited by a gang.  In a poll earlier this year, almost all of the kids knew someone who has been incarcerated and about half have known someone who had died a violent death. How can you learn when issues like this are on your mind?

By talking with students about social justice, community safety, health and money – we are discussing issues they are already thinking about. Then we help develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships. This the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) aspect of our Discussion Series, which is central to everything we do.

We know Empowering Youth Exploring Justice (EYEJ) is making a difference based on the feedback we are getting from students, teachers and speakers throughout the school year.  When asked if they want to know more about the topic we discuss, here are the results:

October (when sessions start) 74% of the students wanted to keep learning and talking

January (after 3 months of Social Emotional Learning based Discussion Series in the 2016-2017 school year) 84% what to know more about the topics discussed

Our programming has been in the school system for four years and demand is growing exponentially both in and out of CMSD.   Following our sessions …

Almost 70% of the students note that they want to do something different

87% of our volunteer speakers believe that the sessions have a positive impact on students  

We are awaiting the final data for the 2016-17 school year, but the preliminary data shows …

80% of teachers see an increase in knowledge of our topics

85% of students will demonstrate an increase in self-awareness and self-confidence.

To illustrate the importance of mindfulness on the learning process, we highlight a recent Washington Post article regarding Robert W. Coleman Elementary in West Baltimore. By shifting their whole focus from punishment to mindfulness, the Coleman school system has significantly decreased the number of suspensions, detentions and time with the principal.  While our mindfulness exercises are a fraction of what they do at Coleman, we do see a direct benefit as the students are able to free themselves of stress for the hour and interact with our speakers on topics which are important for them.

In the case of Coleman, they have been utilizing mindfulness for eight years, and actually have a Mindful Moment Room, which is used for students when they misstep or need calming rather than moving directly to punishment.  It all started with an after school program.  They note tremendous positive feedback from both students and teachers and the related positive effects on the school climate.  Mindfulness helps children to become more aware of their emotions and handle difficult situations by relaxing and thinking first rather than reacting.

These are the same skills we hope to continue fostering in the students we work with.

As a volunteer Discussion Series speaker, I see firsthand the challenges our students face and how important SEL learning and mindfulness are to them.  With that said, we can’t do this alone, we need additional volunteers to increase the amount of services we can provide.


Every three people who volunteer means we can bring mindfulness and SEL to another classroom full of students. Take a couple hours a week or month and make a difference.  Even just a couple of hours matter.  You would be surprised the positive impact it will have on you too.

Click here to visit our website to find out more about volunteering.

Robert Schenosky
Chairman of the Board
Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice