A Principals Perspective: Yoga 4 the Youth
A middle school principal is constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce the effect of “hormones” on their students. I read an article in the Jacksonville paper about a yoga program that was aimed at at-risk youth and I was intrigued. Our school was 100% free and reduced lunch in one of Jacksonville’s most challenged communities. We needed all the help we could get.
Reading about Yoga 4 Change’s innovative way of teaching self-worth and control to students who sounded a lot like mine struck a chord within me and the power of yoga to make change in their lives seemed obvious. I wondered to myself ‘why had we never thought of this before?’ The combination of amped up middle school students and a practice of learning and practicing self-controlled breaths and movements, to rid the body of stress and to clear the mind of distraction, was something I felt we needed to try.
The initial meeting with Kathryn convinced me that this program was something special and that my students were about to have a life-changing opportunity. Kathryn explained that Y4C was not just about yoga, but that it also included a trauma informed curriculum, and I knew that it was going to blend amazingly well with the restorative justice practices that we used as the foundation of our behavior management system. We decided that Y4C would serve as an intervention for some of our most troubled students, students for whom no other traditional form of behavior support had worked.
The first classes were rough. The logistics needed to be built. The kids needed to learn what they were doing and why. The Y4C instructors, including Kathryn, had to start the process of building relationships with kids who are naturally guarded. After the first month though, 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.”
It was working! Suspension rates decreased. Academic performance improved. Teachers were less stressed.
My favorite success story was a student who started Y4C shortly after being re-admitted to the school. She has been expelled the previous year after multiple years of troubling behavior. She embraced yoga and quickly became our top student and a leader on the mat. Her 8th grade year was a revelatory experience. Her behavior changed. Her grades sky-rocketed. And she smiled. All year! This improvement propelled her to acceptance 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 Y4C 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 worth a couple of grumpy kids on a Monday. Suspensions decreased by over 40% the year we provided this programming to all students, and the school received its highest grade ever, a B, in a community where middle schools receive Ds and Fs. Visitors to the school were regularly amazed when they walked our calm hallways, and observed our focused classes. There are lots of factors that contributed to this culture, and Yoga 4 Change was definitely one of them!
After seeing the impacts that Yoga 4 Change had on a such a challenging population and feeling the passion that Kathryn brings to the organization, I was extremely honored to become a board member for Y4C. To me, it is an obvious truth that yoga can make a profound change for the populations we serve, and I am grateful for the chance to help spread this amazing program!
Warren Buck, Director of Teacher Leadership, Jacksonville Public Education Fund and Y4C Board Member