Room to Breathe is a surprising story of transformation as struggling kids in a San Francisco public middle school are introduced to the practice of mindfulness. Topping the district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices. Do they repeat the cycle of forcing tuned-out children to listen, or experiment with a set of age-old inner practices that may provide them with the social, emotional, and attentional skills that they need to succeed?
Even just this brief extract of the film is powerfully moving. I can’t wait to see the whole thing.
Here’s some more background information from the film’s website:
The film begins in the halls of Marina Middle School in San Francisco – kids pouring out of classrooms, shouting to each other as they sweep down the stairwells into a concrete schoolyard that lies outside of the massive art deco building that is the weekday home to almost 1,000 children. The tough language and raw physicality suggests the underlying violence to which these kids are exposed.
Topping the San Francisco school district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices. Do they repeat the cycle of forcing tuned-out children to listen, or experiment with a set of age-old inner practices that may provide them with the social and emotional skills that they need to succeed?
We are introduced to Omar, a troubled African American boy with a love for playing basketball, partly to forget his brother’s murder in an unsolved crime in 2007; Lesly, a highly social girl with no interest in academics, whose hard-working parents immigrated from Mexico; Lesly’s friend Jacqueline, a tough and disruptive girl who is frequently in trouble with school administrators; and Gerardo, a winsome but defiant boy who sees himself as unfairly persecuted by his primary teacher and other school officials.
Room to Breathe has two primary adult figures — Ling Busche, an overworked young Asian-American counselor helping seventh graders deal with what they perceive as a hostile school or home environments, and Megan Cowan, a buoyant 30-something Executive Director of a growing mindfulness-in-education organization. The first question is whether it’s already too late for these kids. Confronted by defiance, contempt for authority figures, poor discipline, and more interest in “social” than learning, their young meditation teacher runs into unexpected trouble in the classroom. Will she succeed in overcoming street-hardened defiance to open their minds and hearts? Under Megan’s guidance, our characters and their peers slowly start to take greater control over themselves, and a new sense of calm begins to permeate their worlds, in class and at home.