The Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center collaborates with John Muir Elementary School to improve community health. Pictured above: Students take part in Quiet Time meditation.
Life at an elementary school is usually not described as peaceful and quiet.
But minutes before school let out at John Muir Elementary School in San Francisco recently, students in Ms. Leibert’s fifth-grade class were sitting quietly with eyes closed and bodies relaxed — taking part in the school’s Quiet Time meditation.
The Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education has trained John Muir’s fourth- and fifth-grade students to either meditate or take part in another quiet activity for 15 minutes, twice a day. The center’s program director said Quiet Time has been shown to improve student attendance, behavior, and academic achievement.
The program is one of several at John Muir funded by Kaiser Permanente San Francisco as part of Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools initiative, which is dedicated to improving the health of students, staff, and teachers in K-12 schools.
John Muir is located in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood — just over a mile from the KP San Francisco Medical Center on Geary Boulevard.
Principal Chris Rosenberg said the school serves predominantly low-income families with close to 90 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and 40 percent are learning English as a second language. The school’s neighborhood has a history of violent crime.
Supporting Schools in a Seamless Way
Over the years, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco has supported the school with Educational Theatre programs, a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service , and funding for the nonprofit Community Grows, which teaches gardening and healthy living skills at the school.
But last year the medical center approached Principal Rosenberg and asked to do more in the area of wellness.
Now Kaiser Permanente San Francisco supports the Quiet Time meditation program, an onsite, part-time mental health consultant, and three Kaiser Permanente employee volunteers who mentor students.
“We were looking for an opportunity to collaborate, and to support the school in a way that integrates the work we do in the school environment,” said Deborah Raymond, RN, interim senior vice president and area manager, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco.
Rosenberg said he can see that the mental health services are already helping a number of students better navigate school.
‘A Fantastic Partnership’
Kaiser Permanente San Francisco funds mental health consultant Wajma Ataie, MFTI, through RAMS, a local nonprofit mental health agency. Ataie consults with parents and teachers, and does direct therapy with a dozen children who wouldn’t otherwise get help.
“A lot of the kids feel worried and unsafe, and some are experiencing housing issues. Many come from single-parent households, so there are feelings of loss and grief. It can be hard for children to concentrate at school, but having a safe environment to share their feelings makes all the difference,” she said.
It’s in that high-needs environment that Nancy McDevitt, RN, and two other Kaiser Permanente San Francisco employees hope to make a difference as mentors to students.
“The research shows that just having a connection with one interested adult can help children be successful in school and more likely to be leaders in their communities,” McDevitt said.
Principal Rosenberg said John Muir has never experienced this level of support from an outside organization before.
“It’s been a fantastic partnership. Hopefully, it will continue to grow and thrive over the next few years.”