Schools in low-income communities can’t do much to end the challenges their students face at home. Whether it’s a lack of food security, an overworked parent or the responsibility of caring for a younger sibling, at-home struggles can make focusing in class incredibly taxing.
But what schools can do, some districts are showing, is help students release the stress associated with those challenges by handing them a yoga mat.
K-8 students in the Ravenswood School District in the San Francisco Bay Area are the latest to partner with the Sonima Foundation, an organization offering yoga and mindfulness training at schools across the country. The foundation is chaired by billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones II and overseen by some of the biggest names in mind-body health, including Deepak Chopra. For the past month, 3,400 students from five schools in East Palo Alto and two in Menlo Park have been participating in twice-weekly sessions as part of their curriculum.
The participating schools call famously wealthy Silicon Valley home, but they also educate some of the area’s most disadvantaged students. Ninety-eight percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-lunch programs, said Russell Case, the foundation’s program manager for the Ravenswood schools.
“The kids might really be struggling with structure and organization at home,” he told The Huffington Post. “The parents might be severely stressed from working two or even three jobs, maybe the primary caregiver isn’t available all the time, maybe their clothes aren’t being washed every day, maybe it’s shame about the number of people in their home. Those are all mitigating factors when that child then goes to interact with a teacher, and they may feel all these things and be struggling with all these deep emotions when they’re trying to respect a teacher’s wishes, and it might be a little overwhelming.”
Yoga, he says, provides the same relief for these kids as it does for the millions of others who practice it: stress relief, an improved state of mind and better physical health.
“What we’re trying to do is give an opportunity to that child to release stress with some vigorous movements and then do some deep breathing to relax, calm themselves and reboot their whole system, and then come into their math class with a fresh perspective,” Case said.
Through a partnership with Stanford University, which received a grant to study the effectiveness of such activities, the program is funded for at least the next three years, according to the Daily News in Menlo Park. Case says he hopes the participating schools experience an 80 percent decrease in discipline issues, slightly higher than the rates the Sonima Foundation report achieving with similar programs in parts of San Diego, New York City, Florida and Texas. Ultimately, he hopes meeting that goal will help slash Ravenswood’s high school dropout rate, which he says hovers around 50 percent. Continue reading >>