West Fort Worth students learn meditation to improve well-being, academics

dfwnewsa | February 26, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

West Fort Worth students learn meditation to improve well-being, academics

Educator Alejandro Pérez leads Uplift Elevate Preparatory students through a meditation exercise inside a mobile classroom called Voyager 1 on Jan. 26, 2024, in west Fort Worth. (Jacob Sanchez | Fort Worth Report)
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Meditation gets Serena Rabet through class.

The fifth grader closes her eyes. She clears her mind. Everything changes.

“When you just sit down and read, it’s very boring, and I would get distracted easily,” Rabet, 11, said. “But whenever you meditate, you get to focus. It’s like you get your eye on the prize.”

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Meditation is one skill students at Uplift Elevate Preparatory learned while visiting the charter network’s mental health bus, called Voyager 1. The practice could improve students’ well-being and boost their academic performance, according to research.

Voyager 1, a mobile classroom inside a refurbished school bus, transports students to a world of peacefulness — in their school’s parking lot, of course. Blue and red opaque windows illuminated by the sun let in just enough light. 

Toward the rear of the bus, educator Alejandro Pérez Jr. sits cross-legged, greets students and leads them through several meditation exercises.

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He told students on a recent dreary day that they can meditate any way they want. Prayer? That’s a form of meditation. Closing their eyes for a moment of clarity? Also meditation. 

Meditation, though, does not have to be quiet, Pérez said. He emphasized to students they can be loud and still focus.

Pérez told students to listen for the word “clap.” When he said it, students needed to clap.Pérez spelled out C-L-A-P. Students clapped. He spelled the word four times. On the fifth time, he spelled out C-L-A-W. 

Clap.

“There’s always anticipation,” Pérez said. “Whether you know it or not, you’ve already been focusing and practicing small-form meditation.”

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The exercises are fun for students. And that’s the point for Pérez. He sees his job as making meditation more accessible.

“People fear the word ‘meditation’ because they think they’re going to have to do something they’ve never experienced,” Pérez said. “People meditate every single day — they just don’t realize they’re doing it.”

Through meditation, students learn patience, tolerance and resilience, Pérez said.

“Patience is a practice that comes from learning how to tolerate yourself, love yourself, care for yourself, and once you learn how to embrace yourself, it’s very easy to be patient,” Pérez said.

In 2021, psychology researchers at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania found positive effects in schools with mindfulness programs. Student behavior improved, according to the research. 

Researchers in 2016 found that an audio-guided mindfulness program spurred improvements in students’ reading and science grades. Elementary students listened to the audio program for 10 minutes daily.

Uplift fifth grader Nathaniel Dublin loves to move and be outside. He’ll walk to and from his classes, to the cafeteria for lunch and sometimes when his teacher says it’s time for a break. But that’s about it.

When Nathaniel is outside, he sometimes likes to take a moment to himself. He meditates. The 10-year-old focuses on nature and animals he sees scurrying around. Rabbits are his favorite.

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“I feel calm, and I think about the good times in life — and try to embrace it,” Nathaniel said.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or @_jacob_sanchez. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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