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Inner Harmony: Outcomes of a Mindfulness Program in an Elementary School PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Inner Harmony: Outcomes of a Mindfulness Program in an Elementary School

Summary: The core commitment energizing Peter Amato's Inner Harmony Group is to human consciousness and transformation. Amato figured that the best time to introduce the concepts of mindfulness would be to children of school age. Through US Department of Education grants totaling $299,000, Inner Harmony has piloted "integral education" training of both students, and teachers. They use five minutes at the start of the day, and 15-20 after lunch. Early outcomes, while including some intriguing surprises, suggest significant value in such areas as attentiveness, information retention and creativity.

Ann McDonough, the principal of the Lincoln-Jackson Elementary School in Scranton, Pennsylvania looks straight into the camera: "I think if other people in our district knew about these programs they'd be running to jump on the band-wagon to be able to do it."

Peter Amato, Inner Harmony founder
Surprisingly, the programs to which McDonough refers are not new sports offerings, or high tech devices. Rather, they are what
the Inner Harmony Group (IHG), the program sponsors, view as components of "integral education." The basic idea is both wonderfully innocent and to-the-point. The Inner Harmony promotional video which includes McDonough's comments, states the aspiration these ways:

"One child awakened can affect countless others."

"Ultimately, if we want to bring peace to the world,
we must create it in and among ourselves."

"Wouldn't we want our children to re-discover inner peace?"

"Consider the possibility that one child can grow
up and
 change the world in unimaginable ways if given the chance

Nursing a US Department of Education Grant into Being

Peter Amato, Inner Harmony's founder, wanted to offer these growth opportunities to students. (See related Integrator story on Amato's work.) He had come to see the value of Yoga, meditation and mindfulness through his own process of recovery, and through training with well-known teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, and Deepak Chopra, MD.

But to gain access to the educational environment, "peace" and "awakening" might not be outcomes that are sticky enough to capture the attention of educator-administrators. Amato and his team knew they would have to promise the possibility of changes which met pressing needs of the educational system. Would students practicing daily meditation be better
  Changes in Teacher
Evaluations of Students

11 of 12 teachers
responding, following
year 2 of the program

(vs pre

(vs pre

  Positive Changes
  Attentiveness up 37%

up 46%
  Ability to tune out
up 18%
up 55%
  Student creativity
up 28%  up 9%
  Ability to retain
up 55%
up 55%
  Negative changes
at 4 months, resolve
to positive at 9
  Emotional balance of kids
down 18%  up 18%
  Desire for learning down 9%
up 18%
  Good communication skills
down 18%  up 9%
  Behavior problems up 9%  up 9%
  Kindness and cooperation
down 18%  no
learners? Would the learning environment be enhanced if children knew how to stop and breathe? Would grades be effected?

Amato proposed that through some simple life skills training, in breathing and meditation, taking 20-25 minutes a day, the program would explore the effects on school children and their teachers.

To help create national interest and awareness for the project, Amato nurtured a long time relationship with Pennsylvania's US Senator Rick Santorum (R). The US Department of Education was the target agency. Funding came through in 2003 and the project kicked off in July 2004.

The program was initiated with 245 second, third and fourth graders. In a first, experimental phase, a light intervention of just 10 minutes, 3 times a week was piloted. Said Amato: "This didn't show any significant results."

A more elaborate intervention was developed. The children's school days began with five minutes of breathing and meditation. A longer session of 15-20 minutes followed lunch.
Inner Harmony practitioners led the mindfulness sessions. Success the first year led to training of teachers and then expansion to the entire school with teachers leading their classrooms.

Outcomes - Profound and Intriguing

Image The individual case stories from this experience, captured in the Inner Harmony DVD, are compelling. The children have gained a self-care technique. One says: "It relaxes me. If I'm having a bad day, I sit down and breathe." Another: "When I get mad, I use it a lot." A mother speaks of the program's influence on her daughter at home: "My daughter has taken to it quite a bit. When she is stressed, she used to fight with her sisters. It's helped her to slow down." The mother of Christian Luciano, after two years of the program says: "He uses it to relax before bedtime. Even when he plays baseball he uses it."

Outcomes were measured through surveying the 12 teachers (11 responded)  pre-intervention, mid-intervention (4 months) and post-intervention (9 months). The results show very high perceptions of positive changes in the areas of attentiveness, ability to retain information and creativity. Interestingly, the teacher survey also found negative changes, at four months, in some areas. Teacher perceptions of the levels of kindness, skill in communication, desire for learning and acting out were perceived to take turns for the worse. All resolved positively by 9 months.

Amato reports that Lincoln-Jackson plans to continue the program even without continued funding. With a recently developed DVD in hand, the Inner Harmony team is working to roll the program out to other schools.
He invites queries. The 17 minute Inner Harmony DVD is available for viewing through clicking here. Contact them through their website.

Comment and Discussion: Were this world arranged around investment in health and well-being, this program would be a part of the school practice of all children. Watch the DVD. It is deeply compelling. I speak as a former 10-year-old
pitcher for the Carlson-Lindquest Oilers

Integral Healing

The bi-polar

outcomes at four
months suggest
a kind of healing
crisis in the
integral education


may not
immediately to

bringing peace
the classroom.

The internal change
must first be

Pee Wee League baseball team. The intent of the Inner Program to increase the ability of the children to experience integration appears to have been realized.

But what about the apparent downside outcomes at four months? Interestingly, the perceptions of negative changes cluster around the inter-personal: behavioral issues, ability to communicate, and "kindness and cooperation." The suggestion of these bi-polar outcomes is that gaining attentiveness and creativity may not, alas, lead immediately to bringing peace to the world, or the classroom. These then resolve, positively, at 9 months.

Reflections on Initially Negative Social Outcomes

I asked Amato about why he
thinks the impact of the program was perceived as negative on key interpersonal indicators. He reflected: "When I get through teaching a meditation class, I remain silent, but I immediately hear people talking like chipmunks. The chipmunks don't notice their chipmunk-iness. This happens 10 out of 10 times. People act out what they are storing."

He reflected further: "When you decompress, you bring out the best, but also the worst. When you bring people to wholeness, they want to experience bliss the whole time. But then as this new state (that the program gives the children) becomes mundane, routine, then they are able to go on." Thus, teacher perception of student behavior in these inter-personal realms eventually brightens.

For me, the finding of the apparent healing crisis at four months deepens the value of the integral education path the Inner Harmony Group developed for these school children.

Kudos to Amato and his team, to the Lincoln-Jackson School (a nice Republican-Democrat integration in that name) and to US Senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum for assistance they provided in grant-getting.

An additional link re "Hygiene for the Body Mind"
: The Inner Harmony program brings to mind the view of Harvard researcher Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, on the role of Yoga as "hygiene for the body mind ..." See article.

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