Yoga helps students learn, puts school in the spotlight

MOUNT DESERT — Becky Heniser was skeptical.

The third grade teacher at Mount Desert Elementary School really doubted that 20 minutes of yoga a few times a week could have much effect on disruptive behavior and help students learn better.

“I couldn’t be five minutes into teaching without them interrupting me, falling out of their seats, not getting anything done,” Ms. Heniser said.

Then principal Scott McFarland asked her and ed tech Amy Philbrook if they would like to attend a workshop on Mindful Life yoga, which is promoted as a method for helping people “maximize attention and become resilient to stress.”

She and Ms. Philbrook started setting aside time to practice some of the Mindful Life concepts with their students.

“We started seeing a difference within probably four weeks, and the kids started talking about the differences they were noticing in themselves,” Ms. Heniser said. “They were developing strategies for calming themselves down.

“We get so much more done academically than we did before,” she said. “We do the yoga right before writing, and they are now writing more and their writing is better.”

Ms. Heniser’s students say the yoga sessions have definitely made a difference in their behavior and ability to concentrate.

Integrating yoga into the school day is an example of Mount Desert Elementary’s focus on the social and emotional components of learning. And that emphasis is what brought a video crew from Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation, to the school last Thursday.

Edutopia’s mission is to “transform the learning process,” in part by “empowering students to think critically, access and analyze information, creatively problem solve, work collaboratively and communicate with clarity and impact.”

Mount Desert Elementary is to be featured on the Edutopia website as part of its series on “Schools That Work.”

For more education news, pick up a copy of the Mount Desert Islander.

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]