How Four Minutes A Day Is Transforming Schools

Students and Teachers Find Calm in Mindfulness and Music.

Imagine sitting in a classroom on an early morning during the second-to-last week of school. Mandatory testing is finally done. Whether you dig into this memory as a summer-ready teacher or student, you can likely recall an emotional state somewhere between weariness and excitement, leaning closer to the weary side of the wellness scale.

Today’s students have more stressors with increasingly rigorous academic demands. Combine that with loads of digital screen time, poverty, trauma and/or other real-life challenges, our children are becoming our canaries in the proverbial coal mine. Their songs are heartbreaking: anxiety, depression, anger, suicidal ideation and suicide. In Cincinnati, a second grade boy committed suicide after a bullying incident.

This year, in Cincinnati, Ohio, more than 15,000 students and teachers, grade K-12, across multiple districts in both urban and suburban schools, started the penultimate week of school the same way they started every day: listening to Mindful Music Moments.

Mindful Music Moments is a daily ritual of mindfulness and music appreciation, pairing classical music with calming and focusing prompts, delivered over the morning announcements. In partnership with the Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati Opera and Contemporary Arts Center (new music), and now the Cleveland Orchestra, students listen to 3 minute excerpt of a single piece of music for one week, with different mindfulness prompts before each day of listening. They listened to Puccini, Copland, Mozart, Bach and Brahms. They listened to new compositions by Olafur Arnalds, Jennifer Koh, and Nils Frahm. They listened to a spoken word guided meditation by Napoleon Maddox, created especially for Mindful Music Moments.

For our Mindful Music Moments students, the second-to-last week of school featured the joyous work of the resilient Beethoven, Ode to Joy. This week, youth who are experiencing homelessness started their week UpSpring summer camp each day with the same piece of music.

Last year, the UpSpring campers also listened to Mindful Music Moments and even participated in the Mindful Music Olympics! But one quieter day, as we sat with the 6 and 7 year olds, I took them through a guided meditation where they imagined a beautiful space where they could sit and be happy. In this space, they were gifted something amazing.

Each student then shared what the gift was. There were flowers. There was a house. There was lots of cash. One young girl said her gift was a music box to give her mother. I asked her what would play on it.

She answered, “Beethoven. But the whole song.”

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