Bringing Yoga to Schools: An Afternoon With the Non-Profit Organization Headstand

I spent the afternoon today in San Lorenzo visiting KIPP Summit Academy, where the non-profit organization Headstand has implemented a yoga program for its students.

Headstand aims to combat toxic stress in disadvantaged K-12 schools, through yoga, meditation, and character education. They do this by offering a training program for teachers who want to teach yoga in schools. The program includes a curriculum that offers a framework and toolset for teachers while giving them flexibility to adapt to the needs of the class.

San Lorenzo schools in general get a rating of 5 out of 10 on GreatSchools. But KIPP Summit Academy gets a rating of 10 out of 10, and when visiting the school, you can appreciate the gem that this school is. The students are well mannered, calm, and respectful. They walk from class to class in single file quietly. While it might sound like a military school, the environment is actually warm, supportive, and creative. The school’s support of the Headstand program is a reflection of how open-minded and innovative the adminstration is.

All students at this school attend yoga class at least once a week, and some attend twice a week, alternating with their Physical Education class. In addition to teaching mindfulness and yoga, Headstand’s curriculum also focuses on character education. I observed a fifth grade class in which the theme for the day was grit. The teacher opened the class by recounting two contrasting tales of people going through challenges: one who gave up and another who demonstrated grit. Throughout the class, the teacher returned to the intention for students to contemplate.

After the opening discussion about grit, the teacher led them through several movement exercises: first, a listening exercise in which they moved between child’s pose to tabletop to downward-facing dog; second, through a flow sequence and basic stretches; and third, with a game called “Yoga Benders” in which a classmate prompts the rest of the class with the name and number of body parts that are allowed to touch the floor (e.g. “two hands and two feet”, “one foot only”, “butt only”). The kids were engaged, happy, and had fun.

The class closed with simple floor stretches, followed by several rounds of long slow deep breaths, savasana, and meditation. Each student keeps a journal and was asked to write a few sentences describing what grit means to them.

The students took this intention to heart. Some referred to grit in the context of climbing a mountain, and that attending college was the highest mountain of all.

Headstand has gathered some compelling data that supports the success of the program: 98% of the entire student body reports feeling less stressed, less distracted, and more calm as a result of their regular yoga practice, and the detentions have dropped by over 60% since introducing yoga at the school. Researchers at UCSF recently received a grant to study the effects of this program on the students and school more deeply.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend time with founder/director Katherine Priore and observe Headstand in action. Learn more about this inspiring program and how to get involved at http://www.headstand.org

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