Rialto elementary school using yoga to help students relax, focus

Little arms form the rainbow pose at Charlotte N. Werner Elementary School in Rialto. In the kindergarten class of Davonne Santibanez Torres, students meditate to a rain stick and learn mindful breathing. They're self-soothing, self-awareness skills little Jocelyn Uriostegui says she uses at home.
"Sometimes I get a little mad when I don't get what I want," she said. "I do my calm cloud or rainbow."  

The focus of school has long been academics, but more and more educators like Ms. Torres are embracing various studies that help students who struggle to learn when they are overwhelmed by their emotions. 

Ms. Torres had one of those students 17-years ago when she first started teaching.

"I had a little girl who was worked up and she just needed a little more love," Torres said. "She needed to breath." 

That's when she says she remembered her own childhood teacher who used to calm her down by rubbing her little head. She started using mindful breathing techniques, and then added yoga when she found it helped her deal with the pain of her fibromyalgia.

"I know that for them it's the same thing, they need to relax their body, they're having a difficult time. Probably not from pain in their bodies necessarily, but pain in their hearts," Ms. Torres stated.

School administrators are now expanding yoga to other classes. "This is the time to do it," said Principal Doctor Ayanna Balogun, adding since the pandemic disrupted traditional schooling, this was an opportunity to introduce changes.

"Coming back from the pandemic students were used to sitting, being in front of a computer, not really moving," she said. 

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She added that Ms. Torres has been ahead of the curve when it comes to tending to her students' social and emotional development. She adds that even the youngest kids are often dealing with the stress of divorce, financial hardship, and more recently family illness or deaths due to COVID. She says since the school started focusing more on children's psychological well-being, their efforts have paid off.

"It's helped, we haven't had as many behavior issues," she said. "We've had students be able to concentrate and focus on the testing, getting back into the swing of school."

Balogun says the school is also teaching teachers self-care and how to manage stress.

Rialto Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Cuauhtemoc Avila says this out-of-the-box thinking is just what students need. 

"When we think of school we think of academics, but it's hard to access academics if a child is not feeling well, if a child's nutritional needs aren't taken care of, if their emotional needs are not taken care of" Avila said.
Ms. Torres' kindergarten class may not know about the research or the district's push to tend to their psychological well-being, they just know how yoga makes them feel.
"It makes me happy," said Cielo Tarin. "It makes me calm," said Ethan Robles.

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