By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Sept. 20, 2018) Local religious groups who complained that yoga elements in a mindfulness program at Buckingham Elementary School were anti-Christian apparently contributed to the program’s removal this year.
Students went back to the Berlin school this month, but “Mindfulness Moments” reportedly did not return with them.
The program, which included pre-taped video segments, was described as an extension of the daily morning announcements that invited students to take part in a “mini 6-10-minute mindfulness moment session to help them positively start off their day.”
According to a description, “Each mindful moment clip is themed to keep kids engaged and includes breathing exercises, calming techniques, and mindful movements to promote social and emotional growth by providing tools to cope with obstacles or challenges children may face throughout their day.”
The series was funded by a grant from the Jesse Klump Memorial Fund and featured local children’s yoga instructor Berkleigh Diaz and licensed clinical therapist Jayme Mahoney.
SonRise Church Pastor Daryl McCready stated his case against the morning ritual – and specifically its yogic components – during his March 26 service in Berlin and in a Facebook post after witnessing the program at the invitation of school officials.
McCready announced during his March 25 sermon that he and pastors from Ocean City Baptist Church, the Worship Center, and the River Church of the Nazarene had been invited to view the program.
On the following day, March 26, McCready posted on Facebook about what he saw at Buckingham.
“The lie that people can be as God or are gods themselves and only need to discover their inner higher self or that they possess the power to heal others by ‘their positive energy’ or that they can bring about their preferred future by the power of their own positive thinking is an old lie from the Father of Lies. God’s people should have nothing to do with such things,” McCready said at the time.
He added, “I understand not all yoga practices are spiritually focused, but the foundation of yoga and many practices are of unbiblical nature and to be avoided by believers. The warning for us is that we ought not be supportive of anything that leads people away from God and the truth. Stretching is not the problem – yoga is.
“Even though some exercise called yoga may not be evil, there is a whole lot of evil practices occurring in this town under the name of yoga,” McCready said. “Yoga seeks to draw and recruit people and in some cases indoctrinate them to false truths and practices.”
The pressure was apparently too much for the school.
“The Mindfulness Moments program was reevaluated after its pilot year in our school,” Buckingham Principal Karen Marx said in a statement last week. “Interpreting the variety of feedback we received, Buckingham has decided to re-implement the research-based program called ‘Second Step’ moving forward. ‘Second Step’ still provides our students with the critical components of social-emotional wellness that students and families loved about the previous mindfulness program. However, ‘Second Step’ provides a robust, Department of Education-endorsed curriculum as well as supporting materials for the home.
“We are incredibly grateful for the partners that helped us bring to life the ‘Mindfulness Moments’ pilot program last year, as it gave our school the opportunity to more fully address a critical need for our students. We look forward to continuing our work with social-emotional wellness with ‘Second Step.’”
Some parents, including PTA President Jeffrey Smith, said they were sad to see the program go.
“I am concerned that, on the surface, it appears as though Worcester County Schools caved to a religious organization,” Smith said. “To me, this sets a precedent in which any church can come to the county and complain about some program or another and expect change.
“No outside person or organization should be allowed to dictate curriculum or educational policy either at the county level, or at any individual school,” he continued. “Doing so does a disservice to the students, teachers, and administrators at Buckingham Elementary and to Worcester County’s exceptional school district as a whole.”
Smith added he was speaking as a parent and not, specifically, on behalf of the PTA.
“I am saddened for the loss of a program that seemed to have such a positive effect on my own child. I saw it in her demeanor every day, in the more positive way she went to school every morning, and in the positive outlook she had at the end of every school day,” he said.
Kim Klump, founder of the Jesse Klump Memorial Fund, in March said her nonprofit hoped to fund a program similar to “Mindfulness Moments” for the Worcester County Board of Education to implement next school year for all elementary schools.
At the time, Klump said, “All of Buckingham (administrators, staff, teachers, and guidance counselors) were onboard with this program. I, myself, teach once a month along with my outreach coordinator, Shawntel Hall. So, I personally fully support the program.”
Now, it appears the larger program, along with “Mindfulness Moments,” has come to an end.
“We at the Jesse Klump Memorial Fund Inc. supported this program financially and helped by teaching some classes,” Klump said in a statement last week. “We received feedback from teachers, parents and students that convinced us that the program was making a difference in how these kids handled negative emotions and how it reduced friction in the classroom. Learning these valuable coping skills at a young age, we hope, will reduce the occurrence of mental illness in the future, which should reduce suicide rates as well.”
A representative from the Jesse Klump Memorial Fund this week sent copies of 33 handwritten letters from Buckingham first-through-third graders, thanking Diaz and Mahoney for teaching the program.
Among them, were: “Thank you for doing Mindful Moments. The Mindful Moments helped me learn yoga poses. Can you do it next year?” -Ronan; “If I could change anything, all I would do is put my mom in that too. I wonder how you made Mindful Moments? I have been very calm this year.” -Chase
Diaz and Mahoney declined to comment on this story, and officials from SonRise Church also declined to comment further.