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Atlanta public school turns to yoga to calm the classroom amid pandemic

Beecher Hills Elementary teamed up with the Namaste Project to bring yoga and mindfulness to its students.

ATLANTA — The pandemic has taken its toll on kids across the country, including in metro Atlanta, but one elementary school is working to help kids deal with it all, by rolling out the yoga mat. 

"Kids were already dealing with stress anxiety, things like cyberbullying even before the pandemic hit," Dr. Kali Arnold with the Namaste Project told 11Alive. "Then the pandemic gave them a whole another set of anxieties."

As a result, Atlanta Public Schools, Beecher Hills Elementary, and the Namaste Project began working together, bringing yoga and meditation to students each week. 

"It's our hope that by doing the Mindful Monday's and Namaste Tuesday's, that students will be able to deal with the pressures of living through a pandemic [and] also be able to handle anxiety and depression, " Dr. Tiffany Franklin, assistant principal of Beecher Hills, said. "[A]ll of this is going to help them, in the end, excel in the classroom."

The mental and health benefits of mindfulness have long been backed by experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics which cites school studies touting the "benefits for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, school performance, sleep, behavior problems, and eating disorders."

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"A lot of research shows mindfulness helps with kid's behavior and brings test scores up," Danielle Brunson, school leader and yoga teacher for the Namaste Project, said. 

The Namaste Project, run by Brunson and Arnold, works with a variety of organizations, but Brunson said the group's primary focus is working with schools K-12. The project focuses on connecting students in the practice of "being mindful, present, and physically active," while also helping guide teachers, staff, and parents.

The lessons vary from yoga to breathwork to guided drawing exercises. 

"We're just excited to see this mindfulness pop up more in different pockets of Atlanta," Brunson added. "[We're] just really trying to bring this into communities that sometimes don't have access to yoga and mindfulness as well." 

The program's teaching ultimately offers more ways to deal with the ongoing pandemic but also, mantras and coping mechanisms for life's ups and downs. 

"I see them wanting to do the breathwork, being able to handle their emotions, and that's what's most impressive to me," Franklin said. "Hopefully, we're not only teaching them something that can help them...but hopefully they're going home and sharing this with their families and this can be family-wide and that the community is benefiting from what we're doing at Beecher." 

The program at Beecher Hills Elementary was also made possible by community contributions, including the Alt Yoga Collective, which raised funds for 120 yoga mats for students, and grant funding from redefinED atlanta's innovation fund.