D.C. Educator Uses Meditation to Enhance Learning

Ideal Academy's Quiet Time Championed by Schools Worldwide

George Rutherford
Dr. George Rutherford (Courtesy photo)

Walking into Ideal Academy Public Charter School in Northwest, you enter an open light-filled space, displaying murals and student projects about inspiring role models. Students exchange morning hellos with each other and with their teachers and administrators. After the morning opening, and before the academic day begins, you experience something rare: silence. Total silence. Not the strained silence of kids anxiously working on a test, for example, but a calm silence, a calming silence.

Ideal Academy, an accredited public charter school serving pre-K through 8th grade, warmly welcomes visitors and is opening its doors for new students.

Ideal Academy has something unique, Quiet Time, at the core of its curriculum which serves as a program that enhances students’ ability to learn.

The Quiet Time program, high standards of learning and a family atmosphere are complementary components at Ideal Academy to educate and empower students.

Principal Dr. George “Doc” Rutherford is a seasoned educator who has pioneered the Quiet Time program in D.C. public schools since 1993 and has inspired the introduction of this program to schools around the country and the world.

“My passion came from wanting to change the quality of life for our students,” he said.

Doc eventually came upon Transcendental Meditation (TM), a technique that provides deep rest as well as educational and emotional development.

“TM helps students to become awake, aware, interested and enthusiastic about learning,” he explains. “It’s simple. If kids are stressed, they are too agitated to learn. If our students are clear and calm, then they are receptive to learning.”

He says he first sought more information about Transcendental Meditation as well as its research and applications for education in the early 1990s and began by trying it on himself.

“My wife had been a little apprehensive because she is a devoutly religious person and thought it might conflict with her Christian belief,” he said. “After learning TM she realized it had nothing to do with religion and she encouraged our four children to learn also.”

One clinician and a specialist in the effects of stress on students sees great merit in the innovative program.

“There is considerable evidence that educational outcomes would be better if students were able to ‘do school’ with much less stress, fatigue and pressure,” said Dr. William Stixrud, a certified clinical neuropsychologist.

He adds that research on Transcendental Meditation illustrates that its practice reduces stress, anxiety, depression and anger, also increasing creativity, the ability to focus, self-esteem and happiness.

“In some schools, the Transcendental Meditation technique plays a dramatic role in helping children overcome learning and behavioral problems,” he said. “TM also improves academic performance and increases attendance. Additionally, both school conflicts and suspensions are noticeably reduced.”

Quiet Time Director Rena Boone describes TM as “an effortless mental technique, simple to learn and of benefit to people of all ages.”

She says that while many students say they feel tired when they first come to school in the morning and at the end of the day, after meditating, they notice they feel awake and refreshed, yet calm and able to focus.

“I have noticed differences in my grades, my progress reports, my behavior, my citizenship,” said one fifth-grade boy. “Before learning TM, I got into a lot of fights. Now I don’t fight much. I feel calm, more focused. It feels good.”

“After I learned TM,” one eighth-grade girl explains, “I noticed how I became much calmer. I realized how TM actually helps the body and mind. It made me forget about my anger. After meditating I would start to think back like, ‘what was I so upset about?'”

Another fifth grader says now he seems to always be happy but can’t explain why.

Boone credits her long-standing practice of TM for her vitality, serenity, patience and for her ability to be positive and uplifting with her students.

“TM revitalizes you and helps you to feel the enthusiasm and delight that originally attracted you to teaching,” she said. “I love helping students to be all that they can be — happy, fulfilled and reaching for the stars.”

Teachers at Ideal Academy agree that TM has had positive effects on their students and themselves.

Other special features of the academy include: small class size and instruction geared toward students’ different learning styles; bus transportation for students which helps to keep attendance high; free breakfast and nutritious lunches for all students; free summer school; and before-school and after-school care.

“Ideal Academy is a community,” Rutherford said. “We are committed to providing the best education by giving our students a nurturing learning environment. Our goal is that our students become competent and contributing global citizens.”

“We started out to change the world but the world is made up of what is within you. In order to change the world, you have to change what is in you,” said Rutherford whose contributions in education were recently recognized at a gala event at the Kennedy Center, “A National Night of Laughter & Song,” that featured Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Jackman and Angélique Kidjo. The benefit’s sponsor, The Center for Health and Wellness of the David Lynch Foundation, donated funds raised to benefit at-risk youth and veterans in D.C.

For more information about Ideal Academy, located at 6130 North Capitol St. NW, call 202-729-6660 or go to www.iapcs.com.

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