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Final Grant Report Reflections for YS Youth Yoga Project, an 18 month yoga immersion for YS School students and staff

III. Reflection

Describe the progress you have made towards achieving the original goals of your grant.  Include the impact it made on your organization, community, and population served.

As the original goals of our grant outlined, we taught a science based yoga program (guided by the Yoga Ed. Curriculum units of Body, Mind, and Self) that included topics like anatomy and physiology, posture and alignment, breathing, self-care, psychology, philosophy, nutrition and wellness at the elementary, middle, and high school levels of the Yellow Springs Schools. One yoga class was offered to the seventh through tenth grade and advanced Physical Education students as part of their PE program once per week from mid-February 2011 through the end of May 2012 (almost 6 school quarters).  The in-school PE classes made yoga accessible to approximately 250 students at the middle and high schools.  At the elementary school, two eight week yoga units were offered. During the Spring of 2011 the first eight week unit was taught at Mills Lawn as part of the PE curriculum once per week to all the classes in the school during the spring and overlapped with the Ohio Assessment Testing. The second elementary yoga unit was moved from the gym into the classroom during the winter of 2012 as the new PE teacher and classroom teachers suggested that the students needed more activity in the classroom during the winter months. This yoga program reached approximately 375 students at the elementary level.

Consistent with the original grant goals, we also offered classes before and after school for students, teachers, and school staff at all three schools. We adapted the classes offered to meet the changing needs of the students, coaches, teachers, and school staff throughout the duration of the 18 month project. During the first two quarters of the project (Winter and Spring 2011), at the middle and high school levels, classes were integrated with the tennis and track practices and offered on a drop-in basis to students and teachers several afternoons and 1-2 mornings per week. During the 2011/2012 school year, we expanded the extracurricular part of the yoga program at the Middle and High School levels as we recognized a need to interweave yoga with existing extracurricular activities that students were already committed to. We then offered specific yoga classes for various athletic teams and academic subjects including presentations to the Psychology class during a Consciousness Unit, Yoga for 7th & 8th grade Speech and Drama classes, Yoga for Theater students during the fall play, and specific yoga practices tailored to the football, soccer, volleyball, and cross country teams. The YS Youth Yoga Project supplemented the after school enrichment and after school care programs at Mills Lawn and the Community Children’s center; these classes were for specific ages and students pre-registered. These after school yoga programs reached approximately 150-200 middle and high school students, 12 teachers, 1 principal, and 100-150 elementary students.

In order to encourage more students to participate in elective classes we offered two classes a week during a new academic lab period during school time and also offered a discussion and practice group for girls with anxiety and depression during lunch once a week. In addition to the above listed classes we offered two presentations to teachers and administrators at both the elementary and middle/high schools during teacher work days in an effort to raise awareness of the scope and potential for the project. Several teachers expressed interest in integrating yoga into their classrooms and several did as we progressed.

While we hope that the tools offered by the YS Youth Yoga Project will have far reaching and profound effects and continue to unfold and inform student’s lives over time, the widespread ripple effect of the yoga project on the community at large is hard to measure. Overall, the YS Youth Yoga Project was very well received and easily integrated into the school environment. Based on our experiences at Mills Lawn, it is clear to us that elementary age children love yoga and benefit greatly from practicing and learning about yoga. The PE and classroom teachers at Mills Lawn were very helpful and supportive of the yoga program. Both the students and teachers at the elementary school expressed an appreciation for the program and reported through verbal feedback that yoga was helpful for focus, energy, relaxation, rest, and exercise along with other positive feedback. Two 6th grade students are featured in the video documentary stating that yoga helps students be more aware of releasing negative emotions such as anger through breathing and yoga instead of bullying and that yoga helps them concentrate better for testing and learning in school and in general.

The yoga program was successful at the middle and high school levels as well. Our PE and Health classes were well supported by teachers Sarah Lowe, Michelle Thiebaut, and Dan West and students made progress in Yoga in terms of physical alignment, flexibility, and general coordination and several students expressed positive feedback and gratitude for the program stating that it had benefited them in a variety of ways from more energy and focus in school to a feeling of relaxation and an experience of better sleep. Positive feedback from students also included an appreciation for various yoga postures and applications. Students were clearly inspired by challenging and athletic style postures and sequences. However, they also often requested repetition of science-based systematic relaxation and breathing techniques that they found relaxing as well as energizing. Furthermore, several middle and high school students volunteered to be in a video documenting their positive experiences with the YS Youth Yoga Project.

Describe unanticipated outcomes, benefits, or challenges that you encountered in the course of completing your goals.
We did not anticipate some of the students’ resistance to the yoga classes offered. We also overlooked the necessity for some lead time in marketing to students, parents, and school staff in order to fulfill our enrollment in elective classes offered to middle and high school students.

What are the most important results/lessons you have learned?
Our original project proposal included high hopes for various potential measurable outcomes that we realized, as the project unfolded, might be harder to measure because the project was so widespread and large in scale. We were able to assess the in-school portion of the project more easily through student surveys and relied on verbal feedback for the variety of additional class offerings. We were able to survey 128 middle and high school students (mostly 7th-10th graders) two ways: one survey asked students to answer how strongly they agreed or disagreed with 5 statements on a 5 point scale, the other asked students to respond to additional short answer questions. Students were asked to respond with a numerical answer of 1-5 according to whether they strongly disagreed (1), disagreed (2), felt neutral (3), agreed (4), or strongly agreed (5) with the following statements:

Yoga helps me to feel calmer and more relaxed. Average response: 3.7
Yoga helps me to be more focused in school or in general. Average response: 2.7
Yoga benefits my physical health. Average response: 3.3
Yoga helps me to feel more confident or a sense of accomplishment. Average response: 2. 5
The information presented in these classes is valuable or useful to me. Average response: 3.1
In addition to the average scores, we also analyzed a cross section of the data from the surveys where students had chosen to identify themselves (only 40 students), and we were able to see that there was a difference in the answers provided when divided by gender. The average responses to the questions for girls were on average higher than the boys: Girl’s responses: Question 1: Average response: 3.6, Question 3: Average response: 3.9, Question 5: Average response: 3.7. Boy’s responses were significantly lower: Question 1: Average response: 3.3, Question 3: Average response: 3, Question 5: Average response: 3.

The results from this survey show that some students genuinely benefited from the yoga programs offered by the YS Youth Yoga Project. The numerical values definitely support the assertion that yoga in schools helps youth to learn ways to relax and relieve stress with an average answer of 3.7 which shows that students agreed with the statement “Yoga helps me to feel calmer and more relaxed.” Students on average answered above neutral in response to the statements associated with questions 3 and 5. However, they answered slightly below neutral in response to questions 2 and 4. Therefore, we might be able to assert that based on the survey results, some of the middle and high school students feel that yoga is effective at reducing stress by creating more relaxation, that yoga offers some positive health benefits, and that the information presented in yoga classes was somewhat useful to them. We might conclude that yoga in schools is not effective for all students in helping with focus, self-confidence, or self-esteem. However, we should also recognize that these numbers are an average and therefore even though they were close to neutral or at times slightly below, many students agreed with the majority of the positive statements associated with yoga and some of the responses in the second survey indicate that many students had a positive experience with the yoga program. The results that show higher responses in girls might indicate that girls are more receptive to yoga or may indicate a need for a male presence in teaching or more marketing to boys. Or this may indicate that yoga programs are more effective at producing measurable results for young women.

The following is a list of notable positive feedback from the short answer portion of the survey:

What tools will you continue to use from yoga?

“Being more aware of taking deep breaths and breathing in general.” “Calming tools such as deep breathing.”  “Stretching and focusing on my inner body” “I will try to continue using breathing techniques and always be aware of my posture.” “I will continue to use yoga in general and continue to relax the muscles in my body.” “I will concentrate on breathing for calming down.” “Relaxing and breathing before sleep.” “I don’t have as many backaches.” “I feel a little bit more energized.” “Stretching and deep breathing when I am stressed.”

How has your body changed after taking yoga?

“More knowledge of myself and how to calm down.” “I feel like I have better posture.” “It feels less tense and relaxed for the next class.” “I can perform postures that I previously could not.” “I can touch my toes now. I’ve become a little more flexible.” “After taking yoga, I find that my body is more flexible and less tight.” “I know how to relax my body better.” “There’s less need to crack my back.” “It has become stronger and more flexible.” “Yoga has helped me learn to take deep breaths and calm down.”

How has your mind changed after taking yoga?

“I felt less depressed after I have been doing yoga.” “I don’t feel like fighting people.” “I know how to clear my mind and remain calm.” “Now when I get mad, I use yoga instead.” “I’m more aware, flexible, and open to change.” “My mind has become more focused.” “I feel more connected, mind and body.” “It’s more patient.” “I really do feel less stressed.” “I know how to relax more easily and focus on the present.” “Focusing on my breathing calms me down.” “I have realized how breathing relates to poses.” “I can think deeper and listen better.” “I feel like I can imagine my body connected with my breath.” “I’m very calm and very concentrated.” “I have an easier way to fall asleep – deep breathing.” “It feels more refreshed and calm.”

“I know how to focus on different aspects of my life.” “I am more open to new things and more understanding about my body.”

What was your favorite thing and what did you most enjoy about yoga?

“I enjoyed relaxing and getting rid of stress.” “Being able to be taught the different poses…It really expanded my learning.” “I liked yoga nidra (a systematic relaxation technique) because it was a good time to relax during the busy school day.” “Relaxation poses due to the amount of stress in a school year” “Some active poses were useful in helping soreness” “I liked learning how to clear my mind and how to use movement to benefit my body.” “Taking time to lie down and relax, school is stressful.” “The fact that it is something new and learning how to relax because it really helps me.” “The balancing poses, the challenging ones, they’re fun.” “It gave me a chance to get away from the normal school environment” “I enjoyed that we could go at our own pace.” “Stretching my muscles because they sometimes get tight.” “Breathing because it’s calming and focusing.” “Being able to calm and relax after a long day.” “The relaxation part, because sometimes I don’t take the time to just breathe.” “Resting, because I can’t usually rest.”

Other comments/feedback for your teacher?

“Jen was a great teacher because she enjoyed what she was teaching and was patient with people who didn’t quite get it.” “The teacher had great control of the class” “Thanks so much! It was new and exciting and I’ve learned so much I wouldn’t have known before.” “Thank you for coming here.” “We should continue yoga throughout the year.” “I hope the program keeps happening.” “Good teachers, explained things well and had good atmosphere.” “I feel that yoga is good because it helps me to relax.” “I like the vibe that is in the room when we are all quiet and focusing.” “I had a lot of fun and loved yoga!” “Thank you for your time. You never gave up even when it was tough dealing with some kids.” “I loved doing yoga! It made me feel relaxed.”

Based on the comments listed above, we can deduce that many students received lasting and profound effects from the yoga programs presented by this project. Unfortunately we were not able to survey the elementary students and based on verbal feedback, elementary surveys may have yielded even more positive results. We were also able to use some of our supply budget to pay for a short video documenting the yoga project and based on the students comments on the video, we can confidently report that the project had a profound and lasting positive effect on some of the students and hopefully on the school environment and the local community at large.

If you were to undertake this project again what would you do differently?
We would plan more lead time for marketing to middle and high school age and for planning the implementation of the project. We might plan more presentations to teachers, students, and parents that happened in the beginning of the project and allow for more of a budget for marketing. Based on student feedback, future programs may focus more on meditation, mindfulness, systematic relaxation, and breath, with less emphasis on fitness oriented yoga. However, there is a need for physical yoga as well.

What are your future plans for sustainability? Briefly describe your rationale for expansion, replication, or termination?
We found ourselves so busy with teaching and planning for classes that it was difficult to secure additional funding to continue the yoga project on such a large scale. Sarah Lowe plans to continue offering a yoga unit as part of her Health and PE curriculum and we hope to secure some funding in the future to support her or organize a group of volunteer teachers. We plan to continue to seek ways to bring yoga to populations that might not otherwise have access to wellness education and are grateful for this opportunity to bring yoga into the Yellow Springs Schools and Community.