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cited Quiet Time as the most impactful pro- gram in the school, helping improve school climate, teacher health and student engage- ment. In student surveys, 85 percent of stu- dents reported that QT reduced their stress levels, increased their focus, improved health, and reduced violence in the school. Over the next four years we saw contin- ued impact at our school as a result of the

Interestingly, the standardized psycho-

logical tests we have administered since the start of QT indicate as our students’ stress levels go down their self esteem goes up. As students become less stressed and more con- fident, we have seen increased engagement as indicated by increased attendance and GPA. Every year at our school we have a huge influx of new students. As much as 70 per-

found that the stress experienced in low SES communities is significantly higher than other communities, and this stress impairs healthy brain functioning (National Acad- emy of Sciences, 2009).These brain impair- ments, among other things, compromise a student’s working memory, which in turn compromises the ability to learn. Specifically, working memory is essen-

tial to language comprehension, reading and problem solving, and it is a critical pre- requisite for long-term storage of informa- tion. Stress not only contributes to violence and behavior issues, it impacts focus and memory, fundamentally impairing a child’s ability to learn and make good decisions. In summary, the researchers at Columbia found that poverty leads to higher stress, which leads to poorer working memory. Our experience and the research indicates that there is a fundamental need to address the problem of stress in order to overcome the predictive power of poverty and position our students so they can grow and excel. The Quiet Time program has provided

Quiet Time in the classroom, twice a day. When David Markus, editorial director of Edutopia, visited Visitacion Valley Middle School, he said, “Every once in a while, when visiting a success- ful school, you see something that makes your jaw drop; something so extraordinary you have to stop and make sure what you saw is actually what it appears to be.”

Quiet Time program. Our district intro- duced a report card on number of suspen- sions per student enrolled. Our school went from one of the highest in the whole district in suspensions to the second lowest – a 79 percent reduction. We saw our average daily attendance

start trending up after the start of QT, and after four years it reached 98.3 percent. When the district compared the two QT schools to all of the other middle schools, there was a consistent increase in atten- dance in the QT schools, versus no change in other schools. After two years of Quiet Time I started

getting hand cramps from signing so many honor roll certificates. A district research department check of our student GPA showed a similar upward trend in GPA. Most encouraging was the fact that the greatest GPA increases were occurring in the lowest-performing demographics, indi- cating closing of the achievement gap.

16 Leadership

cent of our student body is new every year. This last year there was a particularly large influx as the result of a neighboring school closing. We absorbed many students from the highest suspending school in the dis- trict. At the beginning of the year we saw our behavior problems increase dramati- cally, reminding us how our school was five years ago. But as the year progressed the stu- dents became more and more acclimated, and by the end of the year a high degree of harmony was reestablished.

Enhancing students’ working memories What have we learned? After manag-

ing strife and violence year in and year out for several decades of my career, I realized that no matter how much effort we put into teaching, if we don’t effectively address the pervasive underlying tension and trauma experienced by our youth, we can’t make real progress. And the research supports this. Researchers from Columbia University

this for us. It is by far the most impactful, transformational program that I have seen in my 40 years of education. By reducing the individual and collective stress levels and fostering a positive school climate, it creates a foundation for all of our other school ini- tiatives to be more successful. Students are engaged and learning more.

Joy and cooperation at all-time high In the past, almost none of our students

went to the top high schools (San Francisco has an open enrollment policy for high schools). In the last two years approxi- mately 20 percent of our eighth graders have gone on to Lowell High School, the top high school in San Francisco, and one of the top in the country. When I first arrived at Visitacion Val-

ley Middle School in 1999 I was taken on a tour of the facility, and when we arrived at the auditorium the front doors were locked. I asked to see the room and the reply came, “Oh Jim, we don’t use the auditorium. It is too dangerous. If we assemble a large group of students, we inevitably will have serious fights. So we don’t use the auditorium.” Now we use the auditorium almost every

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