ROXBURY, NJ - Students in one Lincoln/Roosevelt School classroom are taking a Zen approach to learning with new yoga materials recently donated to the class.

Caitlin Folkers, a Resource Center teacher at the school, came up with this project idea to implement mindfulness into her classroom.

“My students face some unique emotional, physical, social and academic issues," Folkers said. "In the past year, I and my co-worker, Cheyenne Hill-Serviss, have implemented mindfulness into our classrooms. The practice of mindfulness helps my students to learn how to focus on their breathing, which in turn helps them to focus their minds, calm their emotions and control their thoughts and actions. This skill is paramount for helping my students become successful, not only in the classroom but in life.”

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Folkers worked regularly with her students to make sure lessons were engaging and motivating in order to improve focus and excite them.

“I try to make sure content is level appropriate and broken down to fit each student’s unique need," she said. "However, despite all of this, students still were not learning how to do these things for themselves. I believe that through this project my students will learn how to be more in control of their own mind and body."

Folkers said it is often difficult for students to focus on a lesson during the school day even when they're motivated and want to do well. "Mindfulness is a way to give them the necessary skills to control and redirect their thoughts.," she said. "This not only will help them improve in academic areas but in behavioral and social aspects as well. Students learn to calm and regulate their emotions enabling them to handle the often difficult tasks of everyday life.”

She credits Hill-Serviss for inspiring her to build mindfulness through yoga in her own class.

“I have struggled in my own life to work through stress and emotional ups and downs," Hill-Serviss said. "I have practiced yoga now for many years and seen within my own life the wonderful impact it can have. I have learned how to regulate my own emotions better and deal with stress from everyday life, while making both my mind and body stronger."

Hill-Serviss has regularly and successfully implemented mindfulness into her own classroom. "This inspired me to start a similar type of program within my own class," Folkers said. 'I have seen how much yoga has helped me grow over the past few years, so why not try it with my own students? I only wish that I had thought to start this project earlier in my career so past students could have benefited from the practice as well.”

The class started with yoga mats and quickly expanded with the use of yoga blocks and straps.

“All of my students were new to yoga and some to regular physical activity,"Folkers said. "On top of this, a couple of my students are also working with physical disabilities which made some of the basic poses challenging for them."

She said that shortly after beginning the sessions she realized she would need blocks and straps to help modify some of the poses. The straps help students who struggle with flexibility.

"If students cannot reach their toes, for example, they can wrap a strap around their foot and hold on as closely as they can, modifying the pose to their own level," Folkers explained. "The blocks are used to help with balancing poses as well as stretches. If a student has trouble touching the floor, he or she can reach for the block instead, making it a little bit easier.”

Implementing this revised approach to learning changed the way Folkers approached her afternoons with the students.

“My students come back to my classroom in the afternoon, usually quite active from gym class and recess," she said. "Previously, as the end of the day drew near, students fidgeted a lot more, struggled to focus and became increasingly unwilling to do school work. Now we begin each of our afternoons with 15 to 20 minutes of yoga. Afterward, students are calmer and more focused and ready to learn. This has made a large improvement in the retention of curriculum during our classes.”

Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic said achieving health and wellness is an all-around district goal for Roxbury staff and students. Folkers agrees.

“Yoga is important to incorporate into the classroom because it teaches students about health and wellness," she said. "Yoga teaches students that true wellness goes beyond just the physical body. Health and wellness includes making sure your mind is healthy too. Yoga helps students to learn how to keep their minds healthy through breath and movement. By practicing this, students will become more able to control their emotions, thoughts, breaths and actions making them more healthy and well-rounded individuals.”

“As their teacher, it is my responsibility to provide them with any tool, strategy, or resource possible to make school an enjoyable and engaging place for them to be,” shared Folkers.

PHOTO ATTACHED (courtesy of Lincoln/Roosevelt School)

- Folkers Class practicing yoga (pictured left to right): Caitlin Folkers (teacher), Jackson Barton (Gr 6), Patrick Danielson (Gr 6), Caleb Squier (Gr 6), Steven Garcia (Gr 6), and Filip Lazoroski (Gr 6)