Chelsea Hylton, e-RYT, RCYT, is an educator, yoga instructor, and the founder of Project Peaceful Warriors in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Through Project Peaceful Warriors, which got its start last year, Chelsea has been bringing trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness to students in charter school classrooms. Now as a Yoga Ed. Trainer, Chelsea will be expanding the scope of their work, transforming and enriching entire school communities through sustainable programming and professional development.

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While Project Peaceful Warriors is now gaining its momentum, growing and expanding its outreach in New Orleans, Chelsea’s journey with yoga first began when she was a young girl, while doing Baron Baptiste videos in the basement with her father.

“I knew yoga was great at the start,” Chelsea remembers. “I liked the way it helped me with sports and dance, but the actual cognitive side of things–the mental focus and the ability to work through my own stuff–came in college.”

While at the College of Charleston, Chelsea maintained her yoga practice while pursuing a degree in physical education, minoring in psychology. Noting that she always knew she “wanted to work with kids in some capacity,” it only made sense to combine her love of working with kids and of education with her passion for yoga. She began teaching kids yoga while still in college, and quickly fell in love with it, observing that “it’s so empowering to reach students through movement.” Shortly after graduation, Chelsea completed her first 200-hour teacher training, and jumped into teaching yoga in Title 1 schools throughout Charleston.

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From Charleston to New Orleans

In 2013, Chelsea made her move from Charleston to New Orleans in order to start teaching as an enrichment teacher in local charter schools, and quickly noticed a cultural shift that had a tangible impact on those communities and students. More so than students she had worked with before in Charleston, children and teens in New Orleans were encountering violence in their family relationships and home life that made school work difficult, and required her to provide highly specialized attention to address her students’ needs. Digging into the issue, what Chelsea discovered was staggering. 79% of youth in New Orleans have experienced one or more traumatic events by age 16, and 1 in 5 screen positive for lifetime PTSD. Rather than let the obstacles facing these students overwhelm her, Chelsea spotted an opportunity for empowering change. “I grew up with two addicts, experienced trauma and knew the personal benefit of yoga. These students need a more specific type of yoga taught to them, and they need a smaller group setting to meet more individual needs.”

Enter Project Peaceful Warriors

Chelsea began to deepen her experience through specialized trauma trainings, developing a more solid foundation in the physical, mental, psychological and social background of trauma, and beginning to develop a plan for integrating trauma-informed yoga programs into the community. Through her study and her experience, she knew that the classrooms were the perfect setting for bringing students these tools.

According to her, “having yoga in a school and during the day helps the process because it’s already safe. When the students feel safe and supported, it increases the yoga’s impact on the students because they’re more receptive. There is trust there.”

Looking to put some steam behind her innovative idea, in 2015 Chelsea pitched Project Peaceful Warriors at a pitch contest. She was rejected. But what others may have called a failure, Chelsea deemed to be one of the “best things that could have ever happened.” The constructive feedback and resources she received helped her to prototype and hone Project Peaceful Warriors even further. In March 2016, Chelsea made her pitch again during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week at the 4.0 Schools Pitch Contest for Education, and was able to clinch $7,000 in funding for her programs. Now as a member of the 4.0 Schools Fellowship Program, Chelsea has been able to connect with important resources in the community in education and entrepreneurship, along with getting personalized coaching and additional training in a mini-MBA program, all geared toward making Project Peaceful Warriors an effective and sustainable force for change for New Orleans youth.

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PPW + YE

Yoga Ed. has coupled with Project Peaceful Warriors to make sustainability a reality. When Yoga Ed. CEO Brynne Caleda reached out to Chelsea earlier this year, Project Peaceful Warriors was looking for a way to bring an evidence-based, tried and true curriculum into the classroom without reinventing the wheel. Yoga Ed. was the perfect fit. As a classroom teacher herself, Chelsea was discouraged that many other yoga programs out there just “weren’t going sustainable in a school environment.” But in Yoga Ed., she found that the material was “relatable for myself and my experience as someone inside of a school and as a yoga teacher. It brought the best of both worlds together.” And because Yoga Ed. was developed in schools and for schools, “there are roots in education, and people are way more receptive to it.”

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Chelsea joined Yoga Ed.’s 2016 Trainer cohort, and is now equipped with additional resources, training and specialized support to provide professional development and programming to the communities Project Peaceful Warriors already serves.

Through this partnership, Project Peaceful Warriors is going to be able to grow their staff, seeing more teachers in more schools. And, they’ll be able to see schools becoming more self-sufficient, by training teachers from within using Yoga Ed. curricula. With an educational culture in New Orleans so open and enthusiastic toward innovation, the future for Project Peaceful Warriors, and the youth they serve, just keeps getting brighter.