Hawkins pre-K yoga study to be featured at Harvard conference

Jeff Bobo • Jan 14, 2018 at 10:30 AM
ROGERSVILLE — Teaching pre-K students can be a little bit like herding cats, but three Rogersville yoga instructions have figured out a way to increase students’ attention span substantially by having them pose like cats — or dogs, cows, cobras or even warriors.

A recent study showed that the pre-K yoga program, which started last year in Hawkins County Schools, resulted in an 86.7 percent increase in attention and engagement on the part of the students who participated.

Now Harvard Medical School in Boston wants to know more.

Melissa Nelson, Darlene Lee and Leah Brooks, who operate The Loft yoga studio in Rogersville, are in their second year of teaching a pre-K yoga program — last year in Hawkins County Schools and this year for 15 minutes twice a week at Rogersville City School.

The program was initiated by former Hawkins County Schools pre-K director Dr. Kim Cassidy.

Last year Cassidy began a study to determine what effect a regular dose of yoga instruction would have on pre-K students with “disengaging behavior” — or short attention spans — in the classroom.

At the end of the 2016-17 school year, Cassidy’s position in the Hawkins County school system was eliminated, and she took a job at Shawnee State University in Ohio.

However, the study continued under Cassidy’s direction with Nelson, Lee and Brooks doing the “lab work” in 2017-18 with two pre-K classes per week at RCS.

They have also taken their show on the road, teaching other yoga instructors how to start their own pre-K programs in Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio; and they have made presentations closer to home for the Tennessee Department of Education and ETSU’s Early Childhood Conference.

A few months back, the fours were invited to sit in the audience at the July 27-29 conference on “Movement and Cognition” at Harvard University’s School of Medicine.

Last week, however, Cassidy received a letter informing her that she and her three instructors will now be presenting a workshop at Harvard about Cassidy's study titled “Integrating yoga in the classroom for cognitive stimulation, self regulation, and attributional retraining.”

“Yoga is great for ADHA and for autism,” Brooks told the Times News Friday. “We worked with special ed kids in Mount Carmel last year doing yoga, and it was very effective.”

Lee noted, “It marries their breath, their mind and their body together. When we say, ‘Inhale up, exhale down,’ what that does is bring awareness to your body. They can phase out all the distractions around them and focus on themselves. That gives them the tools to ground and to be able to take a deep breath and be more focused.”

There aren’t many institutions of higher learning more prestigious than Harvard University, a fact that wasn’t lost on Nelson, Lee and Brooks.

They each told the Times News Friday this recognition is very special for them and Cassidy.

Nelson said, “I really don’t have words. I’m kind of beside myself. Very humbled.”

Brooks said, “It’s a passion for us. We’ve been teaching adults forever, and we just started kids last year. We didn’t really know what we were getting into or what to expect. It’s just been such a great experience.”

Cassidy's study will be published and included in the Harvard conference course material.

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