George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

Visitacion Valley Middle School

Grades 6-8 | San Francisco, CA

How Daily Meditation Improves Behavior

With levels of violence and poverty rising around them, San Francisco middle school students find social and emotional healing -- and a new readiness to learn -- in a bold program of daily meditation.

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Quiet Transformation at an Embattled School (Transcript)

James: I became Principal of Visitacion Valley Middle School in the Fall of 1999. My first day here I heard noise outside, I looked out my window, and there were two students tearing the gate off the hinges to get into the yard to play basketball. When I got out to the yard, I noticed there were some young students playing cops and robbers. I walked up to the young man, and I said, "Hey, can I look at that for a minute?" And he said, "Sure," and he handed me his father's .45.

James: In the 2002/2003 school year, we had 41 murders occur in this neighborhood. And the students at this school, either were related to the persons who did the shooting, who were shot, or were present when the shooting took place. So there was a tremendous amount of stress, and anxiety and fear for the students.

Laurent: The stress levels were so high that everyone was really functioning at a disadvantage as a result of the environment. And it was impacting their psychological well-being. And many of the students actually have not only ADHD, but PTSD.

Carlos: You take a ride down any barrio or ghetto in America, and you hear the boom boxes. You hear the shouting. And unfortunately, too many of our kids even hear gunfire.

James: I think that many urban schools today are run like jails, because the kids are out of control. And that's because of the environment they live in. We're not running a jail here. We're running a school.

Laurent: The research is showing that stress is a major problem in our educational system. We can't have an effective educational system if we don't address the problem of stress. This impacts our neurophysiological functioning.

James: In order for kids to learn and be creative, they have to feel happy and safe. So I needed to start working on the social/emotional end of things. And I heard about Quiet Time. And we took a brave step forward into a new world of teaching our students how to meditate.

Teacher: Head up. Eyes closed. Quiet Time starts now.

[sounds of breathing deeply overlaid with traffic and playground noise]

Noah: Quiet Time is the first activity of the day, when the students arrive. And it's also the last activity of the day, before they're dismissed.

Announcement: Please excuse this interruption. Please begin your Quiet Time. Thank you.

Noah: The teacher rings a bell, and that starts the Quiet Time session. There's a 12-minute time period from when the teacher rings the first bell until the teacher rings the second bell. It's really completely silent in the room. The students are meditating.

Man: How many people here meditated? Raise your hand.

Jocelyn: I'm Jocelyn. I am an eighth grader at Visitacion Valley Middle School. I live on Sunnydale. There was a day where there were people walking, and then my dad heard gunshots. Like I felt like I couldn't move. The meditation helped me. It was like a force that blocked what I just experienced.

Rose: We're giving kids a coping mechanism. The problems that you have keep coming, except your ability to deal with them changes. Behaviorally, you see a difference. Especially, I definitely saw a correlation between their behavior and being more manageable in class after they started meditating.

Carlos: If we continue to do what we've always done, we're always going to get what we always got. Is that good enough? I don't think it's good enough for the 21st Century. We need to be the outliers to try things that have never been tried, and see if they work. In education, our job is to touch the future.

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  • Director: Zachary Fink
  • Producer: Mariko Nobori
  • Editor: Daniel Jarvis
  • Associate Producer / Assistant Editor: Douglas Keely
  • Camera: Mario Furloni, Zachary Fink
  • Audio: Thomas Gorman
  • Graphic Design: Maili Holiman
  • Video Programming Producer: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

© 2012 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All rights reserved.


A Quiet Transformation

Visitacion Valley Middle School first introduced Quiet Time (QT), a stress-reduction program that includes Transcendental Meditation as an optional activity, in the spring of 2007. The program consists of two periods, 15 minutes each in the morning and afternoon, when students may choose to sit quietly or meditate. This promotes deep relaxation and a sense of well-being and allows students to clear their minds. These sessions also help students prepare themselves for positive academic and social interactions, which has led to a significant reduction in suspensions and truancies. In addition, the approach improves faculty retention.

Two external organizations supported Visitacion Valley Middle School’s implementation of the Quiet Time program. The Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education is a San Francisco nonprofit organization that specializes in meditation-based stress-reduction programs. The organization works with and receives funds from several groups, such as the David Lynch Foundation, to implement QT and other wellness programs in schools.

How It's Done

Implementing a Meditation Program

For a program like Quiet Time to succeed, space, time, training, and resources are required. Below are four steps to help implement a similar program:          

1. Identify necessary behavior shifts to deal with classroom- or school-level problems.

Consider the following:

  • Are there misbehaviors such as truancy and actions leading to suspensions?
  • Are students anxious or suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome?
  • What performance goals need improvement?
  • In what ways can the school culture be improved?

2. Prepare to implement the program

  • Expect buy in by teachers to be gradual because of skepticism. However, sharing positive research results with instructors will help grow enthusiasm for the meditation program.
  • The faculty should develop a consensus on whether or not to use the approach.
  • Secure permission slips from guardians for students to participate.
  • Train instructors to meditate, so when student questions arise, teachers can answer from experience. Instructors also need training in how to set up their classroom and facilitate their students’ practice.
  • Each student receives one individual training session and three group sessions. 
  • Instructors not only teach the technique but also provide science classes on the physiology and psychology of stress and the impact of stress on one’s ability to be effective and successful. They also discuss the benefits of meditation.

3. Allow students to choose how to spend Quiet Time.

  • Twice a day, once at the first bell and again just before the last bell, instructors direct students to sit quietly for 15 minutes and avoid disturbing others. General recommended activities include meditation, sustained silent reading, and free drawing or painting.
  • Students who elect to meditate use a specific technique called Transcendental Meditation that facilitates a state of deep relaxation.
  • Homework is not a QT activity because students often associate it with pressure.
  • Make needed adjustments to the school space and schedule.

4. Make needed adjustments to the school space and schedule

  • Visitacion Valley Middle School created a special room for faculty to meditate on their own time and for students to meditate privately.
  • To minimize impact on instructional time, Visitacion Valley shaved one minute off each period and took time away from lunch and homeroom

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Helen Pettiford's picture

Just as the video so beautifully illuminates, meditation transforms lives. My own children began meditating in San Francisco in 2009. Before they started to practice meditation, they too were riddled with the stress, strain and anxiety that our modern world creates in all of us. Within a week of their meditation practice, they were back to being open, loving and joyful individuals. It brought a level of peace to our home that hadn't existed prior to meditation. In school, they began to out perform their previous performance levels, they were motivated and looked forward to learning. My daughter and son have both written and published their creative writing, they now perform in the theater and continue to expand more of their potential. All of this is due to meditation in their daily lives. Without a doubt meditation has transformed many children's lives in the San Francisco Unified School District. I am personally thankful to their meditation teachers and the school district's top administrators who support this movement. May everyone gain this gift of peace

Sandra Tanner's picture
Sandra Tanner
Home school two middle school boys in central Oregon

We may not live in a neighborhood that creates stress, but it is helpful to be reminded that
we need to teach our students beyond subject matter. That is the main reason for my home
schooling my boys this year. We do "school" subjects every day. We also have time to talk about
current events, something a friend has said that bothered them, an idea or a quote that may become the lesson of the day, art and music that is not covered in schools, saving money, plan for the future... Thanks for the reminder.

Stuart Knoles's picture

An innovation that actually works may here be identified. Generally held is that innovations that advance education first arise in the "better" schools: where the resources are available, and where creativity is lively to access whatever is beneficial to advance education. We may however, here be witnessing the inverse of that. Out of desperation where there is nothing to lose, a vital component of education is maybe being implemented. The remarkable benefits will then cause it to be sought where there is genuine desire for improvement in education. Something bringing such over-all improvement in the function of a school could mean that when implemented at the bottom; the bottom then becomes the top, and the means trickle down. Once top schools will need to compete with the once bottom. How ever it comes about, a fundamental advance in education is timely: children are waiting - if in fact the privilege of a human birth is that of an education. With so much riding on the effects of this program, it would be crucial that it is reproduced, rather than just the concept of "meditation" because it seems a good idea - which could lead to waste of time and resources. It is crucially important to reproduce the means by which this effect has come about.

Emily Fritz's picture
Emily Fritz
MAT@USC Student; Bilingual Program Language Assistant in Seville, Spain

Extremely well stated Stuart.

Stuart Knoles's picture

Although this school could be considered an extreme case, what I hear stated as benefits of this program are universally vital education fundamentals: fulfillment of the psycho-physiological, and environmental requisites of education. Possibility would therefore be for as great a benefit in what ever school it is implemented: in what ever the system of education - provided the same program is reproduced. That would be an astonishing realization.

Andrea Pflaumer's picture

I had the privilege (and I do mean privilege) to witness this program at its inception several years ago. It was evident even then that thsi is the way you change the school culture - from the inside out. What I saw wa that by improving the childrens' ability to learn they automatically became happier, more productive and successful. Talk about closing the achievement gap! It's thrilling to see what has been accomplished over the years. I have profound appreciation for what these Quiet Time teachers have accomplished and for the support from the District. Now I'd love to see the District put some financial muscle behind this program - one that actually works and has measurable long-term effects. Thank you Edutopia for bringing Quiet Time to the public eye.

Betsy Hanger's picture
Betsy Hanger
Curriculum developer in mindfulness for elementary students: Pasadena CA

Mindful Schools ( is bringing training to Los Angeles April 13-15, 2012. Mindful Schools curriculum is for K-5 students, and connects directly to the benefits that SFUSD is seeing at Visitacion Valley. A prior mindfulness practice (MBSR, MBCT, or other) is required for the training: see the website for information.
What a beautiful video, inspiring article, and excellent collection of resources for all of us to use as we embed contemplative education in our settings!

Betsy Hanger's picture
Betsy Hanger
Curriculum developer in mindfulness for elementary students: Pasadena CA

Having taught "meditative arts" at one of the finest independent schools in Los Angeles, I'm now training to teach mindfulness wherever it is needed, but especially with at-risk children. I appreciate your pointing to the remarkable innovation that's unfolding here, where "better" schools may learn from the public sector. Check out for other, replicated and well-researched programs in public schools. The research section of their site is very valuable, too.

CraigB's picture

Powerful video! These kids, teachers and administrators were using, as far as I know, the Transcendental Meditation (TM)program. TM is different from other forms of meditation. It would be wrong to assume that other techniques called "meditation", even though they are practiced quite differently, produce the same results as TM. TM produced the results in this school. If other forms of meditation have produced similar results then they should be shown independently of the TM results.

Lawson ENglish's picture

A slight nit: TM is not the same as mindfulness meditation. TM, in the long run, allows one to spontaneously become more mindful, but it isn't an intentional thing, just the inevitable side-effect of the reduction of stress from TM, combined with normal daily activity.

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