Las Vegas Charters Become Mindful Schools
There’s more to Vegas than meets the eye.
15 minutes away from the glittering Strip under a shared desert sky, a promising trio of sister charter schools – Futuro Academy, Nevada Rise Academy, and Nevada Preparatory Academy – opened their doors to an eager community of students in the falls of 2017 and 2018.
The schools’ founders and Executive Directors are Ignacio Prado, Justin Brecht, and David Blodgett who met as fellows of Building Excellent Schools, a nationally recognized training program for new charter school leaders.
Fiercely dedicated to their communities, the school leaders share a powerful vision: to support the health and wellness of their schools, from students to teachers to families, in order to achieve academic success and excellence.
Cornerstones: Yoga and Mindfulness
As they solidified the health and wellness plans for their schools, each founder arrived at the decision that yoga and mindfulness were necessary cornerstones of their initiatives.
With an East Asian studies background, Mr. Prado of Futuro Academy understood the importance of an individual’s state of mind in learning and teaching. In Ignacio’s experience, “teaching through a filter of frustration” takes away from high-quality teaching and learning and makes teaching less enjoyable long-term. Yoga and mindfulness are “key levers in supporting teacher quality and emotional constancy.”
Justin, the founder of Nevada Rise Academy, and David, the founder of Nevada Preparatory Academy, know firsthand the many benefits yoga provides from their personal practices. Justin recognizes “the power yoga has to help teach coping skills, relaxation after physical activity, and general lifestyle wellness. As a school with a focus on college readiness, my students and staff have longer hours during extended school days. Students need breaks throughout the day,” and he wants that time to be “structured and purposeful.” Yoga is the perfect fit for those breaks that might otherwise feel chaotic.
As charter schools, all three have significant autonomy in curricular and budgetary decisions, allowing them to prioritize Yoga Ed.’s Mindful Movement Program to support calm classrooms and mindful campuses.
Every school kicked off their opening school year with an onsite staff-wide professional development workshop led by a Yoga Ed. team member for all staff members.
The workshop emphasizes three outcomes:
Learn what yoga and mindfulness are
Understand how yoga and mindfulness can support both teachers’ and students’ health and wellness
Gain four simple, effective yoga and mindfulness tools to improve their school day
First Kindlings of Success
On the balmy early morning of August 1, 2018, eight teachers convened at an old church turned middle school near Desert Inn Road and Eastern Avenue. Nevada Preparatory Academy was opening its doors for the first time in just a few weeks and the new teachers could not be more excited to meet their first incoming class.
Brynne Caleda, co-founder and CEO of Yoga Ed., joined the teachers to kick off the Mindful Movement Program with a professional development workshop. Her measure of success? Whether all the teachers in her workshop left feeling confident and comfortable sharing yoga and mindfulness techniques with their students in two weeks.
To her excitement, the teachers were so comfortable that by the end of the workshop, they even began to add their own unique twists to the techniques. During a practice teaching activity with Humming Breath, Mr. Medina, the school’s music teacher, not only taught his fellow teachers how to hum but how to harmonize their hums.
Mindful Movement Program
The kick-off professional development workshop was just the beginning of Yoga Ed.’s relationship with the schools.
With a focus on sustainability and efficacy, Yoga Ed.’s Mindful Movement Program is comprised of three key components:
Professional development workshops for teachers
Online classes for students so teachers can simply push play on yoga and mindfulness in their classrooms
Quarterly meetings to support teachers and administrators
Over the course of the 2018 school year, Yoga Ed. will work closely with each school to support the development of a sustainable mindfulness program within the school.
The Early Results: self-control, engagement, and learning-readiness
Across the three schools, teachers are seeing the results of their practices. Equipped with the confidence and tools she gained in Brynne’s workshop, Stevie Johnson, a first-grade teacher at Nevada Rise Academy, now leads mindful moments in her classroom and is thrilled with the shift in her classroom since she’s started incorporating the Yoga Ed. curriculum.
“Using yoga in my classroom has helped with student concentration in the afternoon and has helped students to self-regulate their behaviors,” Stevie says.
She has particularly noticed benefits for students who regularly exhibit challenging behaviors, seeing an increase in their self-control and engagement in classroom activities.
Kindergarten teacher Alexa Harris uses Yoga Ed.’s online chair yoga classes as an opportunity to enhance her students’ learning at Nevada Rise. “After doing yoga, students are more focused on their work,” Alexa reports. Like Stevie, she sees yoga as a great tool for boosting engagement in what is already going on in the classroom.
Learning readiness is what keeps Lluvia Garcia, the P.E. teacher at Nevada Prep, pressing play on the online yoga classes. “I love the morning chair yoga videos!” she says. “They help my students get mentally and physically ready for the day, especially after the weekend.”
Happy Teachers = Happy Students
During quarterly teacher meet-ups, a Yoga Ed. Trainer meets with teachers to get their thoughts and feedback on successes and challenges of the program. The Trainer brainstorms with the teachers, recommends solutions to issues that arise and makes adjustments to the program where necessary.
At Futuro Academy’s most recent teacher meeting, teachers tuned into to one of the most important pieces of the program: the benefits of yoga and mindfulness for themselves.
Music to our ears, and their administrators’ ears; teacher health and wellness is directly related to teacher retention student success. In other words, happy, healthy teachers = happy, healthy students.
As the program unfolds, the school leaders are appreciating the results of Yoga Ed.’s clear framework for mindfulness.
Mr. Blodgett enthuses, “My staff and I love Yoga Ed., which has been able to meet every requirement we were looking for in a program.” Every teacher at Nevada Preparatory Academy is now equipped to do chair yoga for a brain break, and a quantifiable number of students have been able to fully engage with both the chair and mat yoga.
Mr. Prado agrees. At Futuro Academy, mindfulness and yoga have been a critical part of their approach to wellness and health.
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