Students Reach New Heights With Yoga
Warren Buck is a member of Yoga 4 Change's Board of Directors. He is also the former Principal at KIPP Jacksonville Schools. Warren shares a testimonial about how Yoga 4 Change's trauma informed curriculum reached some of KIPP's most challenging students and encouraged them to reach for new heights, positively influencing their life's trajectories...
As middle school Principal, I was constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce the effect of “hormones” on our students. So, I was intrigued when I saw an article in the Times-Union about a yoga program that was tailored to work with at-risk youth. Our school was 100% free and reduced lunch in one of Jacksonville’s most socioeconomically challenged communities. It’s not an overstatement to say that we needed any help that we could get.
I read that Yoga 4 Change offered an innovative curriculum for teaching self-worth and control to youth who sounded a lot like the students at my middle school. Their teachings revolved around controlled breathing and body movements. The mission of the organization struck a chord with me. It was obvious to me that the programs they offered presented a real opportunity to positively impact and change lives.
I wasn’t new to working in the education system and I wondered to myself, “why haven’t we as a society thought of this before?” I didn’t know how my students would respond, but I firmly believed this program could serve my students and help reduce their stress levels and make it easier for them to concentrate both inside and outside of the classroom.
The initial meeting with Kathryn reaffirmed that this program was something special. I was confident that my students were about to have a life-changing experience. Kathryn explained to me how their trauma informed curriculum was different from other yoga practices. I knew that it would perfectly complement the restorative justice practices that we used as the foundation of our behavior management system at the school. We decided that Yoga 4 Change would work directly with a limited number of our most vulnerable students, students for whom no other traditional form of behavior support had worked.
The first classes were rough. The logistics needed to be built and the kids needed to learn what they were doing and why. The instructors, including Kathryn herself, had to start first by building relationships with students; kids who are naturally emotionally guarded. However, after the first month of practice, we started to see very positive results.
“Mr. Buck, I know how to take a deep breath now!”
“Mr. Buck, the students are asking if they can take yoga.”
Suspension rates decreased. Academic performance improved. Teachers were less stressed. It was working!
My favorite success story was a student who started the program shortly after being readmitted to the school after being expelled the previous year. For years she exhibited a cycle of troubling behavior. She embraced yoga though and quickly became our top student and a leader on the mat.
This student’s 8th grade year was a revelatory experience. Her behavior changed dramatically and her grades sky-rocketed. She also smiled more, something that she rarely did before. These improvements propelled her to be accepted by Episcopal on a full scholarship, which has put her on a completely different trajectory in life. At her graduation from our school, she came up to me and whispered, “Thank you for putting me in yoga class, Mr. Buck.”
After the initial success of the program, we were able to offer Yoga 4 Change programming to the whole school once a week through our PE block. Though some kids were not as excited as others about this change, the impacts that we saw at the school were completely validated our decision.
That year, suspensions decreased by over 40% and the school received its highest grade ever, a B in a community where the average middle schools receive Ds and Fs. Visitors to the school were regularly amazed when they walked our calm hallways and observed our focused classes. It took a cultural shift to achieve that level of success and Yoga 4 Change was definitely part of the process.
After seeing the impacts that Yoga 4 Change had on a such a vulnerable population and feeling the passion that Kathryn brings to the organization, I was extremely honored to become a member of Yoga 4 Change’s Board of Directors last year. To me, it is an obvious truth that yoga can make a profound change for the populations we serve. I am grateful for the chance to help support and grow this amazing program!
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