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Middle schoolers learn mindfulness through yoga program


The weekly class at Anderson Middle School in Berkley teaches kids healthy coping skills.

By Stacey Winconek

Last November, the Tri Community Coalition, with funding from the Jamie Daniels Foundation, launched a pilot yoga program at Anderson Middle School in Berkley. Once a week for eight weeks, 17 sixth graders took a break from their school schedule to practice yoga and learn healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety, which are prevalent among this age group.

The Tri Community Coalition, which serves Berkley, Huntington Woods and Oak Park, works with schools and the community to help youth thrive mentally and physically and to prevent substance use, says Breanne Ott, program director at the Tri Community Coalition.

After the pandemic, Ott says the organization was eager to get into schools and help students reset through this program, which was launched with substance use prevention at the forefront.

“It is a long day. Whether you’re 6 or you’re 17. I remember being a kid. We never really had the opportunity to have 45 minutes where we could sit and think about how we’re feeling throughout the day,” Ott says.

It follows a successful yoga pilot program that Jamie Daniels Foundation funded in West Bloomfield Township that has since been implemented throughout elementary schools in that district with help from the township.

“We partnered with TCC and Berkley schools with the intent of proving the benefit and viability of these programs on mental health and substance use prevention, with the goal of enlisting others to help fund an expanded effort” says Lisa Daniels-Goldman, co-founder of the Jamie Daniels Foundation.

Harvard Health Publishing highlights that yoga and mindfulness benefit the physical and mental health of school-age children ages 6 to 12. Research indicates improvements in focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and reduced anxiety and stress. In a substance abuse prevention program, therapeutic yoga aims to enhance distress tolerance, helping students handle minor discomfort, build confidence, set limits, and make healthier choices. Additional studies suggest that mind–body practices like yoga may be promising interventions to prevent adolescent substance use.

Both male and female students were selected to participate in the program. Six graders were chosen for a few reasons, says Melissa Ng, school counselor at Anderson. “They are new to the building. There are a lot of stressors that happen in sixth grade, so it was really about giving them some different coping skills and exploring some of the options available to them.”

Beyond the physical benefits, yoga allows students to practice mindfulness, focus on their breath and bodies. “One of my students said, ‘it moved all of the other things out of the way, so I was able to focus on myself,’” Ng adds.

When it came to structuring the program, Ott teamed up with Stacy Bishop, the program’s yoga instructor, to provide students with both consistency and variety. Bishop incorporated sun salutations, breathing, creative movement and even yoga ball (which consisted of students throwing a ball through the hoop and doing whatever pose the ball landed on), and much more. Shavasana was a favorite, Ott notes, so they students sat shavasana for 10 minutes each class.

Bishop wanted to focus on making the yoga program fun while making the kids feel stronger and more confident in their abilities. Over time, she says, students started to open up.  

“It’s a dream for me to see these kids — the younger, the better — to learn breathing techniques and meditation,” Bishop says. “It’s a nice breather for these kids.”

While funding is crucial to providing these programs in schools, Ott says, “It would be a missed opportunity to not have one in every school.”

As for Anderson’s program, with continued Jamie Daniels Foundation support, a second session recently kicked off with a new batch of sixth graders, as well as a group of eighth graders. 


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