Art with a Purpose

Guest post by Jessica Truitt, Deputy Director, Kid Power, Inc.

This is the fifth post in a new blog series on “Building A Safer, Stronger DC,” featuring stories from grantees of the City Fund Safer, Stronger DC portfolio. View the full series here.

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“Ohhhmmmmmmm”. That is what one might expect to hear in a yoga class or what immediately comes to mind when thinking of the practice of mindfulness. It sounds goofy, perhaps embarrassing, and not something that everyone wants to say, especially in front of others. However, mindfulness is so much more, and incredibly beneficial when working with students.

Mindfulness is the act of being present and calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings. It can be done individually, in a group, and through a variety of different conduits. “Ohm” doesn’t even have to be mentioned once. Studies have found that when students practice mindfulness, there are wide-ranging benefits, including cognitive outcomes (attention, focus, and improvement of grades), social-emotional skills (emotional regulation, empathy, perspective taking, behavior in school, and increased social skills), and overall wellbeing (lessening of anxiety, stress, posttraumatic symptoms, and depression)[i].

With school-aged children, practicing mindfulness can take on many forms. This includes doing “body scans”, guided deep breathing exercises, or giving students the time and space to reflect on their actions and self-calm. Many schools and after-school programs have adopted mindfulness practices into their lesson plans with promising results. The Washington Post, the Wall-Street Journal, and other publications have highlighted successes of mindfulness in schools, with some schools replacing detention with “mindfulness rooms” or incorporating it into morning meetings. Schools have found that after practicing mindfulness, their students exhibit more compassion and engagement, have better emotion regulation, and are better able to focus on the task at hand[ii]. 

At Kid Power, a DC-based non-profit that has been serving elementary and middle school students and their families for the past seventeen years, the addition of mindfulness to our enrichment programs seemed a natural fit. Kid Power seeks to inspire youth leadership by promoting academic advancement, physical and emotional wellness, and positive civic engagement in traditionally underserved communities throughout the District of Columbia. Serving over 400 students through free after-school enrichment programming and an additional 150 students during our free Summer Leadership Academy, we provide students with a wide range of activities that enhance our holistic approach, including Citizenship (leadership, youth voice, and community service), Academics (Academic Power Hour and STEM programming), and VeggieTime (gardening, nutrition, and environmental science).

Inspired by the mindfulness movement, Kid Power successfully piloted our Art with a Purpose weekly enrichment program at all elementary school program sites during the 2017-18 school year as an extension of our civic engagement, leadership, and wellness programming. While providing students with a creative outlet, Art with a Purpose lessons were designed to get students thinking about how they handle and express their emotions, how to self-reflect and self-calm, and how to positively work with others. Students participated in activities such as making necklaces, where each color reflected a mood or emotion that they had experienced that day or creating masks where half of the space showed the self that was shown to others and the other half expressed what the student was going through internally. Each lesson is written with discussion and reflection questions, providing youth with the space and structure to share feelings and observations about their emotions.

While we may not have roomfuls of students chanting “Ohm” or quietly meditating, we believe that incorporating mindfulness into hands-on and engaging activities is incredibly beneficial to the students that we serve. In fact, according to our year-end surveys, 95% of parents said that due to Kid Power programming, their students had better conflict resolution skills, while 86% of students gained more self-confidence.

Programs like these enhances Kid Power’s strong commitment to civic engagement and leadership programming and are incredibly easy to incorporate. Devoting time and resources to developing programs that acknowledge the internal development of the child are incredibly important, whether this be a full enrichment period, a brief check-in, or giving a student the space and time to sit quietly and reflect.

[i] Mindful Schools. Research on Mindfulness. August 30, 2018.

[ii] Mindful Schools. About Mindfulness. August 30, 2018.