WV teachers learn to use yoga to help kids deal with anxiety and stress through movement and fun classroom exercises.
Try This-sponsored training gives teachers trauma-informed, active tools
This winter, in mid-pandemic, 347 West Virginia elementary and preschool teachers got the chance to learn dozens of ways to help kids use movement and breathing to deal with anxiety, stress and strong emotions, through a project administered by Try This West Virginia, partnering with Mindful WV.
The project also allowed dozens of West Virginia teachers to be certified to teach Kidding Around Yoga,
(KAY) to children, giving them extra tools they can use to help other teachers weave mindful techniques
through the school day.
“My teachers are loving this program,” said Barbara Black, principal of Putnam County’s Hometown
Elementary. “If we can give kids coping mechanisms, then we can address the academics,” she said.
“And if we catch the young kids now and teach them ways to deal with all their stresses and anxieties,
then they’re less likely to turn to drugs when they get older.
“We’re a Title I school, and we do have lots of kids who have excess baggage outside the school," she added. "There’s lots of trauma going on out there. Some of it, most of us adults couldn’t deal with, and no child should have to deal with. This training gives us good ways to help children learn active ways to deal with stress and anxiety."
The grant paid for 14 schools in distressed areas that work with young WV children to offer the two-day Kidding Around Yoga training to
their whole staff. Try This arranged the trainings, partnering with Mindful West Virginia and the West Virginia Prevention Research Center, thanks to a grant through the WV School of Osteopathic Medicine from the State Opioid Response.
The KAY program uses games, songs, and breathing exercises - physical activity - to help kids focus and practice self-control and empathy for others. “We’ve tried other ways of teaching mindfulness," Webb said. "Most involve talking and counseling. The movement approach connects with kids because they learn coping skills through games, songs, and fun activities. Then they have those tools when they need them.”
Micha Webb directs the Zion Childcare Center in the West Side of Charleston. Ninety-six percent of her kids qualify for free or reduced-price meals. “I have a masters in child and adolescent psychology, and I was super impressed with this training,” she said. “What my staff really values, what we’ve never seen before, and what I love about it is that it involves so much physical movement.” If they learn to use their bodies to resolve emotions, she said, “they always have their bodies with them. It doesn't require equipment."
Star pose at Zion
Webb described a dyslexic student who was helped by her teacher's training. “She struggles with problem-solving skills,” Webb said. “It’s hard for her to switch that brain from the emotional side to problem-solving, so she gets frustrated.” When she got frustrated, she would act out. “So we started using the “Peace Begins With Me” exercise with her, saying, Hey, let’s take a minute and slow down before we try to solve a problem.”
Now, when she feels scattered, the
little girl has learned to touch her
thumb to each finger, on both hands,
saying ‘Peace begins with me” one
word per finger. “It's so simple, and
it works for her. It's a pause that
helps her shift gears. She told her
friends about it. Now they do it too.”
Teacher evaluations of the training were peppered with statements like, “We really needed this!” and “I’ll be using this for myself too.” And “This is something I can start right away in my class.”
“Teachers can benefit personally from these exercises as much as the kids can,” said KAY trainer Kelly Winkler.
Winkler - and all KAY trainers - framed their West Virginia trainings with a segment on trauma. “Yoga will not make trauma go away, but it can help people work through it and resolve it,” Winkler told the Hometown Elementary staff. "So I want to talk about what happens in the brain when we experience trauma. And I want to talk first about the way the things you’re going to learn in this training can help us reach students who are experiencing trauma."
[See “Yoga and Trauma,” below, for a longer exerpt.]
Zion Child Development Center tracks incidents
of "challenging behavior." Two months after the
training, principal Micha Webb looked at their
data. There was a steep drop in the number of
“We’ll be watching to see if that holds,” Webb said.
Like many schools, Zion combines Kidding
Around Yoga with other programs and trainings.
No one program is a magic wand, Webb said, and
it can be hard to separate out which program did
what, “but our teachers are having a great
response to this training.”
The West Virginia Prevention Research Center (WVPRC) surveyed the KAY training participants, including principals, at the beginning of the training and will re-survey them at the end of the training. The results should be available in summer 2021.
WVPRC Project Director Traci Jarrett said the results for each school will be affected by factors like the involvement and support of the principal. Principals were required to attend in the whole-school training and to certify that they would encourage the teachers to implement the program. "I don't have to encourage them, Webb said. "I walk in their rooms, and they're doing it."
Each school also had the opportunity to have a staff member attend more extensive certification training, so they could function as mindfulness lead. At Hometown Elementary, Principal Barbara Black is now certified to teach KAY. "It's one more way I can help our teachers help our kids," she said. "I see this working, so I'm sold."
Mindful West Virginia growing statewide.
"It was particularly meaningful to contract
with Mindful WV on this project," said Try This
director Brittney Barlett. Mindful WV began with a
Try This grant in 2017 and is now a statewide
"It's coming full circle," Barlett said.
Mindful WV was created to network West Virginians who want to promote mindfulness in the schools. The network has no paid employees, but Mindful WV directors have helped arrange school workshops and trainings for more than 700 West Virginia teachers.
At this point, Mindful WV is growing fast, but has no budget or board, etc. It is guided by volunteer directors: Amy Snodgrass, a Mindful WV director, is a trained yoga teacher who works in drug prevention for West Virginia University and Pamela Santer, who directs the Wellness Center for WVU Parkersburg. They team up for Mindful WV trainings and social media.
"After this project, Mindful WV has helped train 10% of West Virginia teachers in mindful techniques," Pam Santer said.
"We were hearing from teachers that many kids are out of control," she said. "Mindfulness is an extremely helpful tool in that sitution. Beneath every behavior is a feeling. And beneath each feeling, there is a need." Those needs often have to do with anxiety and stress, she said. "When we meet the need, rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom."
Project equips dozens of WV teachers to help other teachers use mindful movement
As part of the grant, 43 West Virginia teachers from 20 counties are currently taking Kidding Around Yoga training that certifies them to teach KAY to children professionally, in or out of school. These teachers will serve as lead mindfulness teachers at the schools that received whole-staff training and have pledged to help other teachers get started on mindful classroom activities.
“The state didn’t have that before,” said Try This director Brittney Barlett. The certification training is self-paced. Given the current school workload, most teachers are likely to be finished by mid-summer.
Jada Reeves works at Beckley's Stratton Elementary in Raleigh County, where 93% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. She's looking forward to helping other teachers after she finishes the training.
"This is an inner city school," she said. "Our students, almost all of them are at poverty level, and there are lots of problems. This program will fit right in with what we need. We want to teach mindfulness, and we’ve been looking for ways to do it."
Why does WV need this?
The ripple effect of adult drug use and the pandemic is seriously affecting West Virginia children, said Kelli Caseman, director of Think Kids WV.
"When we talk about drugs and kids, we often want to talk about 'How do we keep kids from using drugs in the first place?''" she said. "But what we really need to talk about is how kids are being affected now by drug use in their families."
Over the past five years, according to DHHR, WV has seen a 50% increase in the number of children in foster care, she said.
According to the United Hospital Fund, West Virginia has the highest percentage of children affected by opioid use in the home (2017).
"There are 2019 national statistics on child maltreatment that show that West Virginia is rated second among states in the number of child maltreatment cases in the country, and number one for first-time victims," Caseman said.
"Many schools would say, 'We’re seeing a lot of kids exhibiting adverse behaviors.' And what you want these kids to do is learn how to take control to their response to their own behaviors," she said.
"Mindfulness is a great way of doing that. It’s really a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives."
"It has transformed the atmosphere of our school."
In the six years Rupert Elementary in Greenbrier County has been a mindful school, Principal Jenny
Harden says, discipline problems and absences have dropped significantly. "Basically, it has transformed the atmosphere of our school," she said.
"The first year, we dropped from 30
out-of-school suspensions to 9 out-
of-school suspensions and from 20
in-school suspensions to 3 in-school
Mindful solutions work far better
than punishment for young kids, she said. "Like most people my age, I was raised to believe that you punish those kids, and it’s their fault. But now I see that there is bad behavior, not bad kids. And we're facing a wave of kids who are dealing with serious trauma that is absolutely not their fault."
"We have a lot of foster kids. We have homeless kids and kids who face all kinds of trauma and need. There are a lot of drugs in the community. They may still go home to that trauma every day. But this is a safe spot. And when they go home, they have more tools in their toolbox to be able to deal with whatever’s going on at home and not contribute to more pressure and stress in their household."
Three years ago, Title I paid to get the whole Rupert staff trained in Kidding Around Yoga. "We require 15 minutes of mindfulness in every classroom at the beginning of every day," she said. "I've been tempted to shrink it, but we need it."
Examples of mindful tools: In some classrooms, every child has a "calming bottle" he or she made on the desk. It's filled with glittery water that can be turned over in anxious moments, to watch the glitter settle.
A disruptive third-grader has learned to hand his teacher a "Take a break" card when he feels about to explode. He takes himself to Harden's office, where he has his own small box filled with sand. ("I got it at Dollar General.") He rakes till he calms, then goes back to class.
"You find the thing that works for each child," Harden said.
"We don’t punish kids for not knowing how to add and subtract," she said. "We teach them, then we re-teach. And we have to teach the behaviors you want, then reteach them, and teach them how to think and breathe and “Peace begins with me,” and make it tactile and active, so you can make it connect."
Contact Jenny Harden at
Download a list of the schools and childcare
centers that received staff training in Kidding
Around Yoga. (click on W)
For information about whole-school Kidding Around Yoga EduKay (whole school) training, see https://kiddingaroundyoga.com/school-workshop/.
For information about the online Kidding Around Yoga teacher certification program, click here.
For more information about this project, contact director@trythiswv.
A West Virginia Kidding Around Yoga teacher workshop in non-pandemic times.
Framing the workshops: Helping kids affected by trauma
Giving them ways to shift gears and break out of a "triggered" state
an exerpt from the Kidding Around Yoga training for Putnam County's Hometown Elementary, by KAY trainer Kelli Winkler
Yoga is really beneficial for trauma. Many of our students experience trauma. And these can be big traumatic things, but smaller things but still can be traumatic. So I want to talk a little bit about what happens in the brain when we experience trauma and then how the practices we'll discuss in this training can help us reach students who may be experiencing that.
Yoga will not make trauma go away, but it has been shown to help people work through trauma that they may have experienced. It gives us that pause button, instead of reacting,
The basic function of different parts of the brain.
Let’s talk about what happens to the brain when we experience trauma. Dr. Dan Siegel has a hand/brain model we’re going to use to learn about the brain. Our arm represents our spinal cord, and that leads up to our brain. Our hand represents our brain.
In the lower part of our brain, represented by the lower part of the hand, are all the automatic parts of our body,
our heart beating, our digestive system and so forth, that we don’t have to think about. This is what they call the
lizard part of our brain, all the things that keep us alive. In this area is also our “Fight, flight and freeze” response.
That’s also an automatic thing that gets triggered when we see danger, and automatically this part of our brain
triggers a response that tells us we should run away, get ready to fight or we should freeze. That’s all in the lower
part of our brain.
When we fold our thumb over, our thumb represents the animal part of our brain or the emotional part of our brain. This is where memories and all our emotions are stored. They’re all in here. This is where, when you hear a song from your childhood, or you smell something your grandmother used to cook, that gets triggered right here.
And this is where PTSD is also held, right in this part of our brain: our automatic systems, our “fight, flight and freeze,” and our emotional part of our brain. So this lower part of our brain is all the lizard and animal part of our brain.
When we fold our fingers over into a fist, this top part of our brain is our frontal lobe, the human part of our brain.
This is the part of our brain that helps us to think clearly, make good choices, solve problems. This is an important
part of our brain for school and learning
The thing that happens is: When we are having a time when we are triggered by something or we’re emotional about
something, Dr. Dan Siegel says, we flip our lid. This upper part of our brain with all our good choices and problem-
solving that we need to make good decisions, goes offline. What’s in charge at that moment, is the lower part of our brain. It’s telling us to either run away of fight somebody or freeze, that there’s danger, and we better watch out. And this is where we can be sometimes, even for the littlest trigger, especially if we’ve experienced trauma.
If we’ve experienced trauma, this animal/emotional part of our brain is always ready to be triggered. And what might not trigger somebody else can very easily trigger a child or adult who has experienced trauma.
Everybody gets triggered. Think about a scenario in the early morning where you’re rushing around because you’re late and you have to get there on time and sign in, and you woke up late or whatever. You’re really stressed because you’re running late and you have to get to work. You run up the stairs and you get to the top and you can’t think why you’re there. Because you’re in an emotional stressed part of your brain and you can’t think clearly. So you go back downstairs, and then you think, “Oh! My keys are upstairs.” So you run back up the stairs. You’re not thinking clearly because you’re in that stress-response part of your brain.
Helping kids learn to recognize the signals of when they have been triggered and need to take a break
If we’re asking our students to learn and take in information and make good choices in school and behave appropriately, and their lid is flipped because they’ve been triggered, they’re in a stress response, they can’t even do that, It’s just not accessible to them because this more analytical part of their brain is turned off.
So today, we’re going to talk about ways we can use these tools to help these kids get their prefrontal lobes
back online and folded over. And some of those things are using:
Using mindfulness practices
Just these small practices are going to help your students get their brains back online so when you’re teaching your lessons, your lessons are going to be a lot more successful, and the kids will be a lot easier to teach because their brains will be in a learning state rather than the emotional or stress response state.
I’ll give you a quick example: My son experienced a trauma when he was seven. He was standing next to his grandmother when she had a massive heart attack and passed. The follow year, he entered third grade and had a hard time separating from me due to the trauma. He was experiencing anxiety. He was suddenly not speaking clearly. They were sending him to the speech teacher, and she would send him back saying “There’s o speech issue.” This went on, and he was really struggling in school. >> He was just experiencing anxiety and separating from me was anxiety-provoking, and when they would reference any medical things, he’d just start feeling anxious and he’d be unable to function effectively.
We started using these practices with him. He’s in the fifth grade now, a success story. At school, they read a novel in which the grandma passes away. He told her. He said: “I knew I was getting nervous because my throat felt really tight. I tried to take a few deep breaths. It was getting worse. But that didn’t work. So I knew I had to move my body, but nobody was standing up. I raised my hand and asked if I could go get a drink.” He walked to his backpack and got his water. “I focused on my cold water and felt better.”
I was so proud of him because he was self-aware enough to know that he had been triggered. He felt his body respond by his throat tightening and not being able to swallow. Normally that would have sent him into a panic attack. He probably would have started crying and go to the counselor, and they would call me to pick him up. So he was able to use these tools I’m going to teach you today. And without the teacher even knowing, he just did it on his own. And that’s what we want the kids to be able to do. We want them to practice these tools so much that, when they need it, they can pull it out of their toolbox and use it and move throughout their day. Instead of having a whole disruption in the classroom, he just took care of it himself, because he had the tools he needed.
That doesn’t come overnight, but when we expose our children to these tools, then they have them when they need them.
This segment of the Kidding Around Yoga training framed six hours of training on dozens of specific tools teachers can use to help kids shift gears. To see a more detailed description of the contents of the Kidding Around Yoga EduKay (whole school) training, see https://kiddingaroundyoga.com/school-workshop/.