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The Need to Breathe: What I Learned Teaching Yoga in High School

Written by a Boston Public Schools History Teacher

For the past two years, for 80 minutes a day, I have taught a semesterised Yoga class at the high school where I mostly teach History. My Yoga class draws males, females, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, as well as students from every racial background and at multiple levels of English proficiency. All of my students receive free lunch, a marker in American education for low-income families and students. Many of my students have experienced trauma, either from living in poverty, escaping war-torn countries, or immigrating to the United States.These students have proven to me, time and again, that teaching Yoga in high school is not only fun, but necessary.

Our class has a pretty set schedule. Structure binds anxiety and I think it’s important for high school students to have routine. We only have one rule- no cell phones. If there’s a pose you cannot do, you are always allowed to self-regulate. Each week, we focus on one mantra. Usually, we begin the semester with “I am perfect” and conclude with “I will breathe.” Class begins by having students meditate, either sitting or laying in Savasana, for about 15 minutes. I guide them through relaxing major muscle groups, play soft music, and remind them to breathe. I also read inspirational quotes to them. We then transition to about 30 minutes of movement. Students often request to focus on certain body parts or areas. Most often it is the back because students spend all day sitting at school desks and then standing at jobs after school. Some participate more than others. It’s not a perfect system. Finally, we conclude with another 15-20 minutes of Savasana with more soft music, more inspiring quotes (teenagers love quotes!), and then it’s Namaste and dismissal.

But, let’s hear what they have to say. A recent immigrant to the United States who took my Yoga class first period wrote in her journal, “Yoga has helped me with staying relax and not lazy all the time. For example, when I didn’t do yoga or didn’t have the class I would feel so tired and not be able to concentrate.” Another student, a very shy senior, wrote, “I used to feel anxious all the time, but now, I am a little bit more relaxed and clear minded. I never thought that I could even do yoga because of my weight. I thought it was only for fit people. Now, I know I can do yoga and test my flexibility every day. Sometimes, I surprise myself with what my body can do.” Another student who experienced the loss of a family member during the semester wrote, “How yoga has helped me is it really helps me clear my thoughts. For example, when we meditate and Ms. Moran speaks and talks about the mantra for the week it makes you feel good. You feel good on the inside and out while you are relaxing and told positive things the whole yoga class.” Finally, a senior who moved to the United States last year and is still learning English wrote, “This class help me to challenge myself through poses that allowed me to know myself better and show that I could do whatever I want. Also this class help me to re-frame my thinking about myself because I learn that I’m perfect exactly as I am, I love myself for this reason. I take care of myself and indulge myself with what make me happy.”

To hear students say these things, makes me emotional. Prior to this class, no one had given them the opportunity to unplug, unwind, and sit in quiet. Being able to practice self-regulation strategies coupled with physical movement is paramount in developing healthy adolescents. I think Yoga, both movement and meditation, should be taught in all American high schools, especially low-income schools, because I have seen it make a lasting difference in the physical, mental, and emotional state of my students, which in turn, has made them better learners who are more able to concentrate and retain information in their academic classes.

One thing Trump, DeVos and many other choice advocates don’t talk publicly about are the negative consequences that have come with the implementation of school choice in states throughout the country. We hear a lot from them about how wonderful it is that some families have some educational choices beyond their neighborhood public schools — the public schools DeVos has flatly called a “dead end” — but we don’t hear about the financial scandals or the lack of transparency or public accountability that have resulted in many places.

Read full article

DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education would withdraw the previous administration’s guidance to protect transgender students, middle school teacher Steven Singer wrote a new blog post. He voiced his concerns about the trauma the policy change might cause for his transgender students and reflected on his interactions with one student who identifies as “agender”

Read full story: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/04/12/teacher-led-networks-turn-educators-into-first-responders.html

Crescendo

This poem was originally written for an event hosted by the Brandeis Asian American Students Association celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which takes place every May. To reflect this celebration, “Crescendo” encapsulates my identity as an Asian American and the ways in which the narratives of influential Asian Americans, such as Yuri Kochiyama and Fred Korematsu, often remain excluded from our educational experiences growing up. This piece represents a much larger struggle currently being undertaken by Brandeis students in the Asian American Task Force, who are fighting for the creation of an Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies Program at Brandeis University. “Crescendo” was recently performed at the third annual Justice Jam, an event sponsored by the Critical Perspectives in Urban Education class.

Crescendo

Crescendo. noun. a gradual increase in loudness in a piece of music.

Apparently, I’m some static, flat-dimensioned entity,

as opposed to

a motion-filled, energized identity,

am I supposed to

be shy

be submissive

not question my place even if it’s

remaining floating somewhere in between the background and foreground?

Back and forth,

End to end,

But who or what is in between?

Gender is not a binary,

and neither are race relations,

it’s not just black and white.

Black letters on white paper,

textbooks written, curriculum rigid,

they must’ve used invisible ink when this was scripted.

Cause often times my education came from the front page of Google.

I’m nisei like Yuri Kochiyama,

that’s second generation,

like Fred Korematsu,

matsu, to wait,

but I’m not gonna wait for this weight to be taken off these shoulders, grandma’s shoulders,

please hold her,

you must carry her,

memories with you.

They call us models as a minority,

shoving us into the foreground to snap their photos,

yet they don’t actually want to see us walk down the runway,

dare I say,

I wish our views were heard more.

Not in one ear out the other,

maybe one year we won’t just be another

muted accompaniment in the background for once.

We’re perceived as always smooth and well-paved,

well played,

running straight and parallel along the road.

Abiding by the speed limit that was set for us,

to exceed it, to excel, is to threaten, can’t you tell?

Because when that happens, they never fail to tell us to stay in our own lane.

“Hey check this out, I heard this is swearing in Chinese!”

But I’m not-

“Well of course you’re doing well in Calc”

I struggle as a student too you know.

I’m still working on myself too you know.

Still working on that internalized racism.

Society’s mirror isn’t cracked but it’s warped,

you’re still whole in the reflection but something seems forced.

As if someone’s over your shoulder, pointing,

stop doing that, act like this instead,

be ashamed of that, or you’ll never get ahead.

So you start joining in on the bashing,

and by the time you realize

that it’s you on the other side,

the damage has been done.

So decrescendo that,

wait, don’t suppress it,

drag it out from the shadows,

and play it accented.

Mystify, exotify,

now allow me to edify.

Don’t taste-test my culture,

only to spit out my food for its smell.

Karlie Kloss wants girls to learn to code,

but she’s still dressed as a geisha on the cover of Vogue.

Now I’m not here to call people out,

I’m out here because they stay stomping us out.

Crescendo.

verb. to increase in loudness or intensity,

it’s not just the work of one.

You don’t have to play any louder,

if others join in the playing.

– Olivia Nichols

 

President Trump’s Education Department has decided to nix an Obama-era grant program meant to help local districts devise ways to boost socioeconomic diversity within their schools, a program that some advocates considered a barometer of the new administration’s commitment to integrated classrooms.

The Education Department said through a spokesman that the $12 million grant program was discontinued because it would not be a wise use of tax dollars, in part because the money was to be used for planning, not implementation. The decision says nothing about the administration’s interest in diversity, the spokesman said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, speaking at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday, said she believes socioeconomic and racial diversity is “a real benefit in schools.” But advocates say her words don’t match her actions.

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/03/29/trumps-education-department-nixes-obama-era-grant-program-for-school-diversity/

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