A Denver Elementary School Has Replaced Detention With After-School Yoga & Here’s Why It Works

"Sit and think about what you've done" seems to be a universal line amongst parents, but now an elementary school in Denver, Colorado, is taking that concept and using it to replace detention with "after school reflection," according to Denver7. Doull Elementary hired Trini Heffron, an experienced yoga instructor and former teacher, to work with kids whose behavior would normally land them in detention. But instead of having kids go to detention and do homework or write an essay about what they did wrong, Heffron has them do yoga.

"[W]e give them a space where they can relax and try something different that they can take home," Heffron told Denver7. "It’s good to learn reading and math but the emotional part sometimes we don't pay a lot of attention."

Doull principal Jodie Carrigan added, "In detention, two angry kids were just sitting by each other." The new program, which is reportedly funded by a recent grant awarded to Doull, aims to change that.

"To take that moment to think and [breathe] and be reflectful [sic] can really help prevent all sorts of problems," Doull's school psychologist told Denver7.

There is evidence to support the idea that yoga has positive effects on school-age children's behavior. A study from several Harvard and Yale researchers published in 2014 showed that teachers of second-grade students who underwent a 10-week yoga class at school "perceived significant improvements in several aspects of [their] students' behavior," according to the study report. Teachers of third-grade students who participated in the same yoga class "perceived some, but fewer, improvements." The researchers concluded that "school-based yoga may be advantageous for stress management and behavior."

While the idea of wiping detention off the slate may seem unusual, Doull actually isn't the first school to implement an alternative program to handle students misbehaving. In 2016, Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore made headlines for establishing a "Mindful Moment Room," which was "a warm, brightly lit space strewn with purple floor pillows, yoga mats and the scents of essential oils," CNN reported.

The room had been up and running for three years, and in that time, the number of suspensions had been slashed, according to principal Carlillian Thompson, who said the room had "made a huge impact." In the three years since the room had been established, she hadn't had to suspend one student. In a single school year prior to the establishment of the Mindful Moment Room, she'd suspended four students.

Dr. Marlynn Wei writing for Harvard Health Publishing noted that a "growing number of schools now integrate yoga and mindfulness into physical education programs or classroom curriculums," and that yoga is being used to help kids with everything from managing ADHD to reducing stress.

Jessica Mei Gershen, a certified yoga instructor who teaches yoga to children at Brooklyn Yoga Project, told Wei that yoga is effective because it's tangible. "Learning physical postures builds confidence and strength as well as the mind-body connection," she explained. "Through yoga, kids start to realize that they are strong and then are able to take that strength, confidence, acceptance, and compassion out into the world."

At Doull, yoga is so popular, the school had to tack on a third day of after-school practice for students who aren't even in trouble — they just want to participate. According to Heffron, the change-up in how Doull handles misbehavior has had a positive impact on kids who normally would have been sent to detention. Mimicking a student, she told Denver7, "'I'm going to learn and pay attention and follow directions from the teacher now.'"

Considering how many children suffer anxiety and stress from the pressures of school, it's no surprise programs like Doull's and the Mindful Moment Room are a hit with kids who sometimes need a place to check out and calm down.