ENCINITAS — At Broome Street Academy, a school that serves homeless and foster-care teens in New York City, students have been doing yoga since January. The template for their program: Encinitas Union School District yoga.
“I’m actually surprised at how it’s been embraced,” said Barbara McKeon, Head of School at Broome Street Academy. “Even the hard-nosed streetball guys are doing downward dog.”
In 2011, a representative from the Sonima Foundation, previously known as the Jois Foundation, introduced yoga at Capri Elementary in Encinitas. Encouraged by the results, in 2012 the organization put together a $700,000 grant for yoga and nutrition at EUSD schools.
That was followed by a $1.4 million grant from the foundation for this school year, which increased the number of yoga teachers at all nine district schools.
Drawing from EUSD best practices, the Sonima Foundation developed a yoga curriculum.
The foundation has since exported the program to 10 schools over the past year, including in Florida and New York. In the county, yoga has made its way to two schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District and the Monarch School in San Diego.
McKeon said she’s grateful for the program because her average student doesn’t have a lot of exercise opportunities. And many are grappling with social and emotional issues.
Anecdotally, McKeon said, yoga has reduced stress levels and promoted reflection among students.
“Students are using the calming techniques outside of yoga class, we’ve noticed,” McKeon said.
She added Broome Street Academy is partnering with the University of Virginia to research the program’s impact on students.
Culturally and geographically speaking, Broome Street is very different from EUSD schools, McKeon said. Not to mention, Broome Street students are older.
So, the program had to be adapted to fit her school. Still, she said yoga seems to help people of all stripes.
And unlike the EUSD program, Broome Street yoga hasn’t encountered any set backs, she said.
Last year, an Escondido-based lawyer sued EUSD, arguing that yoga teaches Hinduism, adding the program violates what’s commonly known as separation of church and state.
Ultimately, a San Diego judge ruled EUSD yoga has religious elements, but passed constitutional muster.
Following the decision, the Jois Foundation felt more confident bringing yoga to other districts, said Eugene Ruffin, CEO of the Jois Foundation.
“We’re getting phenomenal feedback from educators,” Ruffin said. “Even those who were a little hesitant are coming back with positive comments.”
The reluctance typically stems from educators who aren’t familiar with how yoga could benefit students, he added.
“We went through that hesitancy in Encinitas, and you’ve got yoga programs on every corner,” Ruffin said. “So if you’re going to go through it here, you’re definitely going to go through it in Harlem.
“But we’ve overcome that in a very short period of time thanks to teachers demonstrating the benefits for children.”
He expects the program to expand to other schools in the near future, but declined to elaborate because a final agreement hasn’t been reached. An announcement from the foundation will likely come by August.
Ruffin is especially encouraged by comments reporting that yoga is improving younger students’ self-esteem. He added that yoga provides much-needed time for self-reflection.
Scott Himelstein, director of the Center for Education Policy and Law at the University of San Diego, said results from the first of a three-year USD study shows yoga’s positive influence on EUSD students.
Notably, as a result of yoga, teachers reported fewer instances of disruptive behavior, according to the study. And students developed better coping skills for potentially stressful situations.
Additionally, students doing yoga performed slightly better on physical flexibility tests.
For the study, researchers interviewed students, parents and district officials. And they compiled survey data from these groups.
“We started in Encinitas and now we’re reaching about 10,000 students,” Ruffin said