‘I am the work’: Mindfulness rooms launching in 3 Richmond Public Schools

Positively Richmond

Photo: Keyris L. Manzanares

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Ram Bhagat has been practicing the idea of mindfulness and yoga in schools since the 1980s when he first started teaching.

Bhagat retired in 2014 after being a chemistry teacher in Richmond Public Schools for 27 years. He also taught for three years in Henrico County and one year in Washington, D.C.

Last year, RPS hired him as the manager of school culture and climate strategy. Bhagat has training in education, professional development, trauma, healing, restorative justice, yoga and art integration.

Ram Bhagat sits in the restorative justice mindfulness room opening at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

RPS staff members, community partners, and the Holistic Life Foundation formed a ‘triangle’ to work on establishing mindfulness-based restorative practices across the school system.

The Holistic Life Foundation is based in Baltimore and focuses on ‘nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities.’

This school year RPS will open three restorative justice mindfulness rooms in three middle schools including, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas C. Boushall and Albert Hill.

One thing that we want them to experience is a sense of safety and grounding and the feeling of personal empowerment, where they learn how to develop self-awareness, and self-control and the power to also teach the lessons that they learn in yoga and mindfulness to their peers. That gives power, the ability to be more in control of their reactions.”

RAM BHAGAT

MLK M.S. is located in the epicenter of Mosby Court which has one of the highest rates of poverty in the city. With that comes violence and chronic absenteeism, Bhagat said.

Boushall M.S. is in the city’s Southside where the demographic is mostly Latinx. Bhagat said the locations of these two schools is important because it will shift the culture and improve the environment.

The ultimate goal of RPS is for trauma-informed practices to permeate the entire school division. Bhagat told 8News he wants those who work at RPS to understand the impact of trauma on learning and behavior.

“It’s almost like creating a culture that acknowledges that trauma is a factor in our everyday lives, at the same time though it’s not something that restricts us or keeps us from achieving,” Bhagat said. “It’s almost like moving from a label to a sense of how do I overcome my conditions to achieve the highest level that I can.”

“The importance of RJ mindfulness rooms is that it creates a transition from a non-tolerance punitive model to restorative justice or restorative practice model that acknowledges that conflict is inevitable,” Bhagat continued.

“We use the phrase ‘I am the work,’ I am a product of my experiences, I am here because of my resilience.”

The program exists as a support to build on the resilience of students and promote social, emotional learning and compassion and high education achievement.

By recognizing that conflict is inevitable, the program makes an emphasis that at the same time it is a learning experience.

“We are not going to throw anyone out of the community. We are going to find a way to support a sense of belonging so that our schools are loving,” Bhagat said.

The schools will take on a multi-faceted approach when it comes to how the RJ mindfulness rooms operate. Students will be able to refer themselves or have a teacher refer them — that way the school can be proactive and find a way to prevent conflicts or behaviors that could lead to suspensions.

To help students feel grounded and be in the space of the room, the staff will use certain practices like breathing exercises or deep compassionate listening so they can hear what the student is dealing with.

Bhagat said that if what students are dealing with is beyond the scope of the room then they will be referred to counselors or social workers that can help.

“We will bring the practices to classrooms or have teachers come in or classes come in or have parents come in so that they can learn the practices,” Bhagat said.

One way Bhagat plans to get parents involved is with ‘the junkyard jam,’ using drumming as a restorative practice.

The RJ mindfulness rooms will open at Albert Hill M.S. in September. MLK and Boushall will open in October.

VCU is currently working on a grant to be able to research the rooms for the next three years. Based on the research, the mindfulness room model will be refined and spread throughout RPS.

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