“Let’s Just Stop and Take a Breath”: A Community-Driven Approach to Mindfulness Practice in a High Poverty Elementary School

  • Shana Haines University of Vermont
  • Kelly Clark/Keefe University of Vermont
  • Alan Tinker University of Vermont
  • Alyssa Kotsiopoulos
  • Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin University of Vermont
  • Katharine G. Shepherd University of Vermont
  • Haley Woodside-Jiron University of Vermont
  • Morgan Milhomens University of Vermont
Keywords: mindfulness, self-awareness, well-being, elementary school


This case study describes how a high-poverty, linguistically and culturally diverse elementary school came to embed mindfulness in its curriculum and what adults perceived to be the outcomes of the program on students’ well-being. This qualitative case study is based on 25 interviews with teachers, administrators, and community members; classroom observations; and relevant documents. Participants indicated that practicing mindfulness improved student well-being through greater self-awareness and increased ability to articulate their emotions and needs, select strategies to self-regulate, and generalize their practice of mindfulness to out-of-school settings. Implications for practice and research are discussed.

Author Biographies

Shana Haines, University of Vermont

Shana Haines is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Vermont. Her research focuses on family-professional partnership, educational experiences of refugee students in American schools, inclusive school reform, and teacher preparation. Shana has published in a variety of journals, including Exceptional Children, Inclusion, Research and Practice for Persons With Severe Disabilities, and Preventing School Failure.

Kelly Clark/Keefe, University of Vermont

Kelly Clark/Keefe is an Associate Professor at the University of Vermont. Kelly’s research brings material feminist and posthumanist theories of affect, art, and identity to bear on a range of overlapping topics including: the physicality of educational subjectivity, stratified versions of schooling, and conceptual analyses of educational leadership. Kelly’s work also engages philosophies of poeisis, affect, and habit to argue the usefulness of embodied, arts-informed approaches for researching the complexities of contemporary educational circumstances. Kelly is the author of the book, Invoking Mnemosyne: Art, Memory and the Uncertain Emergence of a Feminist Embodied Methodology (2010).

Alan Tinker, University of Vermont

Alan Tinkler is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Vermont. His research focuses on community-engaged learning, including service-learning, as a way to support the remodeling of education. He is also interested in other high impact practices, including internships. He has recently joined the internship committee of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, a consortium that supports funded, eight-week summer internships for students.

Alyssa Kotsiopoulos

Alyssa Kotsiopoulos is a dual-certified Special Educator teaching at the Kindergarten level in Vermont. Her research interests include understanding the impact of poverty on student development, the relationship between parent involvement and student academic achievement, and effective social-emotional interventions for at-risk students. Alyssa’s professional teaching interests center on social justice education and effective inclusion of students with exceptionalities in the general education classroom through differentiated instruction.

Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin, University of Vermont

Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin is a Professor of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Vermont. Her research utilizes critical perspectives to examine educational politics and ethical leadership, particularly the media’s role in shaping the public’s understanding of educational issues and the need for reform. She served as a Fulbright Scholar at Beijing Normal University in the People's Republic of China in 2010. Her most recent work is a co-edited book entitled Reimagining the Public Intellectual in Education: Making Scholarship Matter. Gerstl-Pepin has been published in numerous journals including the Review of Higher Education, Educational Policy, and Teachers College Record.

Katharine G. Shepherd, University of Vermont

Katharine G. Shepherd is a Green and Gold Professor in the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in special education and leadership, and conducts research focused on collaboration and leadership development for families of children with disabilities, preparation of teachers and leaders for inclusive schools, inclusive school systems, and collaborative data-based decision-making. Dr. Shepherd has served as principal investigator or co-principal investigator for federal and foundation grants totaling over $3 million. In 2013, she received UVM’s Kroepsch-Maurice Award for Excellence in Teaching at the associate professor level.

Haley Woodside-Jiron, University of Vermont

Haley Woodside-Jiron is Associate Professor in the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on the neuroscience of education, how chronic stress and trauma affect learning and development, and school change. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in child development, brain research and learning theory, and critical literacy. Dr. Woodside-Jiron currently Chairs the Social Emotional Learning Special Interest Group for the American Education Research Association and has published in a variety of journals including Educational Researcher, Equity & Excellence in Education, International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, and Reading Research Quarterly.

Morgan Milhomens, University of Vermont

Morgan Milhomens is a senior studying Elementary and Special Education at the University of Vermont. Growing up she dreamed of becoming an elementary school teacher and is currently working hard to achieve that goal. Mindfulness became a personal interest of hers in high school, and she continues to practice mindfulness as a part of daily life through meditative and yoga practice.