The impact of meditation as a cognitive-behavioral practice for alternative high school students

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Wisner, Betsy L., 1955-

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The number of students dropping out of school is reaching crisis proportions. Compensatory alternative high schools are successful intervention programs for dropout prevention and school social workers offer services in these schools to support students at-risk of dropping out of school. The potential benefits of meditation as an intervention for this population have not been studied and this study explores the potential benefits of mindfulness meditation as a cognitive-behavioral strategy to help alternative high school students improve social and behavioral functioning. Participants were 35 alternative high school students in Grades 10 through 12 (N = 35; 19 boys and 16 girls). The research design in this study used both quantitative and qualitative methodology. Concept Mapping, a mixed-method approach, developed by Trochim (1989) allowed quantitative statistical analysis of qualitative data. In addition, teacher ratings and narrative qualitative data were also collected and analyzed. Concept Mapping yielded eight clusters reflecting the conceptual domain of student perceptions of the changes from the mindfulness meditation intervention: Improved Stress Management, Enhanced Self-Awareness, Enhanced Emotional Coping, Enhanced Ability to Pay Attention, Improved State of Mind, More Time Spent Being Calm, Improved School Climate, and Enhanced Student Engagement. Particularly important for students was the potential for meditation to relieve stress and to improve school climate. Students may value certain meditation benefits over others based on gender, age, or grade. Student behavioral and emotional strengths showed a statistically significant increase following the intervention as evidenced by teacher ratings on the Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale (BERS-2)/Teacher Rating Scale. The mean for the Pre-Intervention ratings of students (M = 90.03, SD = 11.42) was lower than the mean Post-Intervention ratings of students (M = 100.60, SD = 13.28), t(27) = -3.97, p < .001. Qualitative analysis yielded two overarching themes: the benefits and the challenges of mindfulness meditation for students. Meditation is a cognitive-behavioral intervention that allows vulnerable students to enhance psychosocial, cognitive, and behavioral strengths.