In the gym at the Robert J. Christen School (P.S. 81), third graders wobbled slightly as they struck “tree poses” on their yoga mats, balancing on their left feet while raising their right feet up to their knees.
“A big breath in, a big breath out — find a focus point to look at,” advised Mayuri Gonzalez, a visiting yoga instructor.
“I wish I could do that,” Principal Anne Kirrane joked as she stopped by to observe the session.
The class is part of P.S. 81’s push to provide students with more opportunities for physical activity during the school day. In February, the school received a grant from the Department of Education (DOE) to start a School Wellness Council. Since the council’s inception, students have been able to participate in both yoga and tai chi classes at the school. The school has also upgraded its gym and recess equipment.
“As a parent, I want to see my child move more,” said Julia Salleres, a P.S. 81 parent who co-wrote the grant request, along with parent Tal Zorer.
The two parents applied for the grant in the summer of 2013. Rain or snow often meant students had to stay inside during recess, and the once-a-week gym class was not enough time for students to unwind.
“Our goal was to get kids moving during the day,” Ms. Salleres said. “It helps the teachers and the kids are more focused.”
Along with bringing tai chi and yoga workshops to the school using the grant money, the Wellness Council has brought the DOE’s Move to Improve (MTI) program to the school, which helps teachers incorporate activities that encourage kids to get up and move into their usual classroom activities. Teachers participated in a 3-hour professional development workshop where they were given CDs with self-guided tai chi routines.
“It’s great — it’s a wonderful way to get them focused. They need these outlets,” said Marisa Maher, a physical education teacher at the school.