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by Sue Agee

Lots of sweet smiles and eager-to-please faces bound in the room after school on Thursdays. Middle-schoolers volunteer to wait for their snack because they want to practice yoga first.

The students look for the mat that has their name and unroll it forming a semi-circle. These English as a Second Language (ESL) youth, from a variety of Latin American countries, are part of the Passport to Education program at Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School. The program is supported by the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (VAHCC) and Project Yoga Richmond.

The youth repeat affirmations in English and Spanish, listen to the sounds of the singing bowl, and begin to focus on breathing as they move through sun salutations, learning the English (and sometimes Sanskrit) names of various poses. They practice standing poses, arm balances, twists and more.  The students are always happy to show everyone their improvement week to week.

Sharing their experiences and connecting with the students the bilingual leadership mentors, guide small group discussions after yoga and encourage children to dream big and achieve their goals. They also join in our yoga practice and together we move through the poses. The mentors are volunteers from the community from various professions, ranging from a local business owner to a uniformed police officer.

Relaxation is a guided meditation shared in both English and Spanish. When relaxation is over, many of the youth are reluctant to sit back up because they enjoy the calm and peaceful feelings relaxation brings.

After yoga, the students neatly roll up the mats and place them away for next time. Each mentor has several students gather at various tables where the smaller groups take turns reading, discussing, and completing the worksheets. The worksheets and activities provided by the VAHCC are presented in a fun and interactive way. Leadership lessons include topics such as “Attitude Is Everything,” “What are my Dreams?” and “Achieving Success.”  All handouts are translated in English and Spanish to help the middle schoolers continue to improve reading, writing, and conversation in both languages.  Increased comprehension of English directly impacts success in schoolwork.

When the 12-week program is complete the middle schoolers receive a certificate of congratulations and their yoga mat to take home. We hope that they take with them the tools learned in yoga. We hope that they are inspired by the possibilities their lives hold and know that many adults in the community care deeply about them.

Sue Agee, E-RYT500
PYR Ambassador and Board Member

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