My brother was born on the day of the Columbine shooting. While my family celebrated the arrival of a brand new baby boy, families in Colorado and all across the nation mourned the loss of 12 students and a teacher. When my parents heard about the shooting, questions that plagued the nation settled into their minds: How could something like this happen? What would it mean for their children? Would it happen again?
Columbine marked the beginning of what former Rep. Gabby Giffords has called “a uniquely American crisis.” Since Columbine, there have been “25 fatal, active school shootings at elementary and high schools in America.” In a study done by The Washington Post, researchers found that “more than 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the beginning of the 20th century. … Many are never the same.” The surviving students of these attacks are left with deep emotional scars that take a lifetime to heal.
This is to say nothing about the emotional suffering felt by shooters before their attacks. As a society, we must decide to take the initiative to help our struggling students and relieve their pain and suffering, beginning with school-implemented programs that will help youth become mindful of their challenges and combat them in a positive, constructive way.
In West Baltimore, the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has implemented the practices of yoga and meditation to accomplish this goal. The students begin and end each day with a 15-minute blend of yoga and meditation. Principal Carlillian Thompson says that since the program’s beginning in 2014 to the year 2016, there have been zero suspensions, compared with the four suspensions from 2013-14. Dacari, a student from Robert W. Coleman, said, “When I get mad at something or somebody, I just take some deep breaths, keep doing my work and tune everyone out. … It gives you good confidence when you need to do something important.” The students are also more peaceful and there are fewer outbursts in the classroom.
A similar program has been introduced in Emeryville, Calif., where teachers are learning mindfulness to share with the youth, “arming kids with lifelong tools to cope with challenging situations, resolve conflicts, and feel compassion and empathy for both themselves and others.” Implementing exercises like these will benefit our students by helping them become more mindful of their challenges and how to deal with them, especially those challenges that come from deep emotional pain. They will help students to redirect their negative energy into something positive and meaningful to their communities. Programs like those implemented in Baltimore and Emeryville will help students evaluate their emotional health with clarity and help students affected by violence to find peace of mind.
While the practices of yoga and meditation are certainly not a solution for all school shootings, or for the challenges faced by troubled youth, implementing them in our schools is a step we can take to a more peaceful nation. At this crucial time when school shootings are becoming an ever-increasing threat and our youth suffer in silence, it is important that we act now. We hold a responsibility to teach our young people how to deal with their suffering effectively and peacefully. We are the ones to teach them what it means to be a part of a society and how we should treat each other.
As we help them respond to their problems mindfully, we will build the foundation of a brighter future and a nation that is more prone to peace than violence.
Maisie McGinn is a freshman studying at Brigham Young University.