Yoga takes a breather at Aspen Elementary | AspenTimes.com

Yoga takes a breather at Aspen Elementary

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Yoga Ed. will take a breather at Aspen Elementary School this year as the school district conducts a review of its entire health and physical education curriculum.

However, supporters have stretched the program to benefit the students of the Aspen Community School – a move that will make Yoga Ed. the subject of a landmark academic study by the University of Minnesota.

Yoga Ed., a curriculum created by Tara Guber, founder of The Accelerated School of Los Angeles, was introduced at Aspen Elementary School last fall as a pilot program funded by the Aspen Center for New Medicine. It was just one element of the ACNM Children’s Health Initiative, which also introduced a bully-prevention program and an eating-disorder hot line to local youth.

Program supporters hoped the system of stretching and breathing techniques would become an important tool for teachers, in essence, a fun and easy way to calm their charges. However, Yoga Ed. sparked a small controversy last September when a handful of local parents questioned its religious roots.

ACNM staff quelled the controversy by reviewing the Yoga Ed. curriculum and purging it of any references to religion. It was launched at Aspen Elementary in October 2002, and served over 300 children in grades one through four.

“We had a really successful year with Aspen Elementary School last year,” said Betsy Fifield, chair of the Children’s Health Initiative. “We’ve talked to a lot of the teachers, the parents, the administration and the kids, and there seems to be a really nice consensus that the program was valuable to the kids and the school.”

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But the Aspen School District must review all pilot programs before they can become permanent additions to the curriculum. The district will spend this year conducting a review of its entire health and P.E. curriculum, and will include Yoga Ed. in its studies.

“They’ve agreed now to review the Yoga Ed. program as it relates to the P.E. and health curriculum,” Fifield said. “That’s great, because that means they liked the program enough that there’s a possibility of adopting it permanently.”

But Aspen Elementary won’t be completely without yoga. A parent organization known as SNAP will sponsor after-school programs beginning in November, Fifield said. Also, a few AES teachers have become certified Yoga Ed. instructors, and continue to use the program on an “unofficial” basis to soothe their students.

“But I don’t always call it `yoga,'” said Deborah Stein, a second-grade teacher and certified Yoga Ed. instructor.

She uses her Yoga Ed. training during “transition times” between important subjects. Her kids can stand up, stretch and try out any number of “creative visualizations” that help stimulate their imaginations.

“It works out really well. I do notice a difference when I don’t do it,” Stein said.

One popular practice involves the collection of small stones, which Stein’s students use to symbolize a worry in their lives. When the children are ready, they hand their “stress” to their teacher and relieve themselves of their burden.

“[Then] we can concentrate on other things,” Stein explained. “It’s a good way for them to recognize their stresses.”

The Aspen Community School, on the other hand, will welcome Yoga Ed. in all its classrooms this year. Therefore, “it’s a different model” than the one used at Aspen Elementary School, Fifield said.

“We’re training everybody in this school,” she said.

This model sparked the interest of Dr. Scott Crow, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. Crow has launched an academic study of Yoga Ed. and its effect on Aspen Community School students over the next year, Fifield said.

“To the best of our knowledge, there’s never been a research study done on the impact of learning on kids in schools with Yoga Ed.,” she said. “This is a great situation, to have an outside, highly accredited university conducting research here.”

Crow and his research team will conduct a series of surveys over the course of the next year, polling students, staff and families on the Yoga Ed. program and its lasting impressions.

The Aspen Center for Integrative Health, as the ACNM is now known, has invited every teacher in the Roaring Fork Valley to perform their own assessment of Yoga Ed. The Center will introduce its Tools for Teachers training, Sept. 19-21, in order to offer professional development to teachers interested in “hatha yoga, kinesthetic play and guided imagery” in the classroom.

The Center will also introduce free, one-hour Yoga Ed. support classes in October for the same purpose.

For more information on Tools for Teachers training or additional support classes, contact the Aspen Center for Integrative Health at 920-2957.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]

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