published Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Bright idea: Grant allows school to incorporate yoga in classroom day

First-graders from the Bright School practice a yoga position using a pictorial card as a guide on the playground. First-grade teacher and certified yoga instructor Denise Cooper recently helped the school to get a grant to integrate yoga into the classroom.
First-graders from the Bright School practice a yoga position using a pictorial card as a guide on the playground. First-grade teacher and certified yoga instructor Denise Cooper recently helped the school to get a grant to integrate yoga into the classroom.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

"Everybody grab a partner," Caroline Clark, her blonde ponytail bobbing, said to the handful of fellow first-graders gathered around her.

"Double pretzel," she instructed.

The girls, following her lead, twisted until they achieved the proper position.

While other Bright School first-graders swung on swings and played hide-and-seek on the hill above the school, the faithful handful of students, led by the energetic Caroline, practiced yoga during their playground time.

The independent school on Hixson Pike, under the leadership of teacher Denise Cooper, recently was awarded a $1,000 grant by Yoga Recess, a nonprofit national organization whose goal is to inspire the use of yoga in schools.

Bright received the grant after submitting a video on how it would use the money and after edging a Philadelphia school system in a Facebook vote.

"The idea is to slip it in [to class activities]," said Cooper, a first-grade teacher, "but children are so amazingly drawn to it."

The plan for the money, as spelled out in the grant application, is to -- among other things -- create a lending library for teachers with yoga storybooks and activity games they can use in the classrooms.

"I dream of yoga touching the lives of the 320 students at Bright School," Cooper said in the 150-word essay application she wrote in seeking the grant.

She said she also dreamed of offering yoga on the playground as a recess choice, of training her fellow teachers to use it in their classroom, of replacing timeouts with yoga breaks, of supplying it to children as a tool to keep their composure and focus, of equipping the school counselor with methods of calming children and helping them concentrate, and of creating a model to share with other schools in the community.

Cooper, who was trained in children's yoga last summer, has mixed in the yoga with daily classroom activities. It's just as easy for students to come to a mountain pose, for instance, as it is for them to audibly be quiet, she said.

"I start out leading," Cooper said, "then they're leading on their own."

Since learning through activity participation is typically a part of the class, "it becomes a part of their play," she said.

Outside, with the help of the grant-purchased Yoga Pretzels cards, students such as Clark just take over, Cooper said.

"She holds court every day," Cooper said.

Clark, stretched out on the turf, reads the yoga position description on the colorful card. She and her fellow practitioners then ease into the position.

"It just warms you up," said the 7-year-old, who even made a for-fun video of the students' yoga exploits. "It gets you ready to go and run and have fun."

Baker Young, also 7, said she much prefers the calm poses rather than the "wild stuff" of running and chasing and hiding.

"It stretches your body out and makes you flexible," she said.

Cooper said one of her adult daughters, who knew she'd been trained in children's yoga, sent her the online link to the Yoga Recess site.

To enter the competition, she first had to write the essay on how Bright could spend the prize money to incorporate the practice into the classroom.

"I figured I could write 150 words on anything," Cooper said.

When her essay was picked as one of eight finalists in the country, she was told she had to submit a video and conduct a Facebook campaign.

The video, according to Cooper, lasted "all of 97 seconds," was shot from the top of a ladder and featured three adults and three students lying back in a circle talking about how they might use the grant.

In the Facebook competition, the Chattanooga school was neck and neck with a Philadelphia school system, but the "Bright School community rallied behind it" and made the difference, she said.

Now, said Cooper, the students are reaping benefits they can use as they age.

"It's a lifetime sport," she said. "They're not going to play ring-around-the-rosy the rest of their life."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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