School dis­trict uses yoga for phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion

Texarkana Gazette - - NEWS - By Charles Scud­der

FRISCO, Texas—Soft pi­ano mu­sic and dim lights set the mood in the kinder­garten class­room.

The Dal­las Morn­ing News re­ports Kristina Cappe, a health and well­ness coach at Frisco In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict’s Pink El­e­men­tary School, stands in front of 22 chil­dren, each sit­ting on their own pink mat.

“Is ev­ery­one ready for yoga?” she asks. “We’re go­ing to take our fin­gers and put them on our belly and we’re go­ing to imag­ine our belly is a bal­loon.”

Cappe leads the chil­dren in a few deep breaths, then guides them through some ba­sic stretches. She shows the kinder­garten­ers all the clas­sic poses: moun­tain, war­rior, down­ward dog, tree pose.

When she has the kids arch their backs into cat pose, she tells them to meow as they ex­hale. They all gig­gle and join in.

When they sit on the floor to stretch their ham­strings, she tells them to “make a pizza” with sauce, cheese and ex­tra top­pings. They sprin­kle hand­fuls of imag­i­nary cheese on their mats as they stretch toward their toes.

“Who re­mem­bers our yoga code word?” she asks at the end of the les­son.

“Na­maste,” the chil­dren say in breathy, kinder­garten voices.

The kids don’t know it, but this is not their par­ents’ health class.

Pink El­e­men­tary and the rest of Frisco ISD’s 42 el­e­men­tary schools are find­ing new ways to get kids mov­ing and keep them healthy. That means yoga classes, mar­tial arts lessons, veg­etable “try days” in the cafe­te­ria and more.

It all works in con­cert with ex­panded coun­sel­ing and men­tal health ser­vices to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion to the “whole child,” in the par­lance of the dis­trict. The idea is that all of a stu­dent’s classes should work to­gether to pro­mote not just aca­demic but so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing as well.

That’s where yoga comes in.

“It gives kids an op­por­tu­nity to breathe and ex­hale, which some­times we can’t do when we’re fo­cused on aca­demic rigor,” said Al­li­son Ginn, the dis­trict’s K-12 PE and health co­or­di­na­tor. “We want to make sure we’re of­fer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to all stu­dents and not lim­it­ing it to what we tra­di­tion­ally thought of in PE.”

Na­tion­wide, more schools are mov­ing away from the kind of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion most grown-ups re­mem­ber.

Christo­pher Hersl is vice pres­i­dent of pro­grams and pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment for SHAPE Amer­ica, a pro­fes­sional group for health and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers. Al­though ev­ery school’s PE cur­ricu­lum is dif­fer­ent, he said, many dis­tricts have be­gun to fo­cus more on “phys­i­cal lit­er­acy” rather than lessons on the rules of team sports.

Among adults, the most pop­u­lar phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties are of­ten soli­tary. Think run­ning, bik­ing, ten­nis or golf. The lo­gis­tics of putting to­gether large sports teams is a bar­rier for many, so it’s bet­ter to teach kids the skills of healthy liv­ing, Hersl said.

“The re­al­ity is health is more than one thing,” Hersl said.

In Frisco ISD, lead el­e­men­tary PE teacher JT Mistr said he has worked to im­prove PE along­side health and well­ness cur­ricu­lum with help from school nurses, cafe­te­ria nu­tri­tion­ists and more.

The dis­trict makes a dis­tinc­tion be­tween PE class, which fo­cuses on stu­dent move­ment, and health and well­ness, a ro­ta­tion class like art or mu­sic that fo­cuses on the class­room-learn­ing side of emo­tional, phys­i­cal and men­tal health.

Be­yond yoga classes and other non­tra­di­tional lessons for el­e­men­tary-school­ers, Pink El­e­men­tary has hosted com­mu­nity fun runs, ridey­our-bike-to-school days, health fairs and “try days” in the cafe­te­ria where stu­dents are en­cour­aged to taste fruits and veg­eta­bles in all col­ors of the rain­bow.

“For most adults, work­ing out is not fun,” said Pink prin­ci­pal Danielle Record. “Now, we want to in­still in our stu­dents a love for be­ing phys­i­cally ac­tive.”

The ef­forts have brought na­tional praise and ac­co­lades to the school, in­clud­ing most re­cently the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion’s School of the Year Award for year­round heart-healthy pro­gram­ming.

“It’s not just PE; it’s not just kids com­ing in (to the nurse’s of­fice) to get a BandAid. We have to lean on the whole process,” Mistr said. “We’re al­ways try­ing to find how we can meet our kids.”

While a group of kinder­garten­ers in Cappe’s class­room fo­cused on mind­ful­ness, a group in the gym on the other side of the school was a lit­tle more ac­tive.

Mistr had in­vited in­struc­tors from nearby War­rior Mar­tial Arts Academy to give a ba­sic mar­tial arts les­son in PE class.

The kinder­garten­ers stood in an evenly spaced grid, punch­ing and kick­ing on com­mand. They ran in place, and dropped to a pushup when in­structed to. A far cry from the calm­ing yoga down the hall.

“From one ex­treme to an­other,” Mistr said.

Near the end of the les­son, the in­struc­tor told them to drop into a pushup po­si­tion. Kinder­garten­ers strug­gle with up­per body strength, Mistr said, and few of the stu­dents can do a true pushup. Get­ting started early, how­ever, will help them when fit­ness tests start in third grade.

“It’s hard, man,” Mistr said. “Core strength is ev­ery­thing.”

The mar­tial arts in­struc­tors come in a few times each year, but they’re not the only guests. Mistr said he has a long list of com­mu­nity part­ners who come to bring healthy-liv­ing lessons to Pink El­e­men­tary. Rowdy, the Dal­las Cow­boys mas­cot, has vis­ited the school with the NFL’s Play 60 health and ex­er­cise cam­paign. The Dal­las Stars brings in play­ers for hockey lessons.

Ginn, the dis­trict co­or­di­na­tor, said the strat­egy is to give stu­dents as di­verse a set of ex­pe­ri­ences both in and out of the gym as pos­si­ble. That way, stu­dents will feel com­fort­able try­ing new things when it comes to phys­i­cal health through­out their lives.

“There’s noth­ing that I won’t do to give our kid­dos a new op­por­tu­nity,” Mistr said.

“I feel like the work we do here is the work that should be done all over. It’s our job to do that for our kid­dos.”

Ash­ley Lan­dis/The Dal­las Morn­ing News via AP

■ Char­lotte Mayer, right, and other kinder­garten stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in a yoga class Jan. 24 at Pink El­e­men­tary in Frisco, Texas.

Ash­ley Lan­dis/ The Dal­las Morn­ing News via AP

■ Joshua Oatis and other kinder­garten stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in a yoga class Jan. 24 at Pink El­e­men­tary.

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