MCKINNEY, Texas — Carrie Dewey is a counselor at McKinney ISD's Discipline Alternative Education Program. She has been in education for 18 years and is always looking for ways to better connect with the children she serves.
A few years ago, she brought an idea to the campus with the help of a friend named Jason Hernandez. The two came up with the concept of mindfulness and meditation for the school setting.
The program allows students to find some peace and quiet. Students sit on yoga mats and stretch and meditate with music playing in the background and Dewey quietly giving out instructions.
"It's just a way of saying, 'Bring all of your awareness to what you are doing right now,'" Dewey said.
Dewey says the McKinney DAEP campus has been employing the mindfulness program for three years now. It started with two sessions, and now there are eight sessions. It is even being used during detention at the end of the school day.
"I have students that ask to come to detention. They're not assigned detention, they just wanna come," Dewey said.
Hernandez says he had meditation sessions daily while in prison. He was serving a life sentence for selling crack cocaine until he was granted clemency after 18 years in prison by President Obama. Hernandez said meditation helped him cope with the idea that he would one day die in prison.
Hernandez says he knows the kids who struggle with structure and are in the disciplinary schools — because he was one of those kids.
"You don't have to physically be incarcerated to be in prison," Hernandez said.
Dewey works with students every day who are trying to course-correct back into their regular schools. For some students, that process can be a little bit harder because of life's challenges. WFAA met with a 15-year-old named G.D. He said his family was uprooted from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
"I do catch myself because I feel good when I leave from this [program]. I don't have my mind on anything," G.D. said.
Dewey said she has seen the results. She said other teachers tell her all the time they are surprised she can get students to be so still and quiet.
She said the kids she works with are now more attentive, they manage their emotions better, and most importantly, they begin to learn who they are.
Hernandez and Dewey are fully aware of the naysayers who are critical of these kinds of programs.
"I would tell them: What is the track record of a punitive detention?" Dewey asked.
Hernandez and Dewey tell us other school districts have asked them about the program. They say mindfulness and meditation is just one way to meet the needs of the students they serve.
Hernandez says this is an opportunity for some students to turn their lives around — and not go down the same road he went down.