By Rachel O’Brien
Deputy Policy Editor, OpenTheBooks.com
The early days of the Covid-19 pandemic were hard on most people, but especially kids, who had to stay home and participate in virtual learning.
To combat the stress of the new setup, Baltimore public schools implemented yoga programming, spending at least $876,147 since January 2021, according to spending records the schools provided OpenTheBooks.com in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request.
Those were the hard costs of the new program and it doesn’t include the soft costs, i.e. facilities, existing staff management, etc.
The district provided yoga classes for students “as a holistic approach that would address students social emotional and mental health needs,” according to the descriptions of some of its yoga programming spending.
The district paid $814,851 to two companies, Holistic Life Foundation and Project Pneuma, to teach students, staff and parents a combination of yoga and other practices.
Holistic Life Foundation promised to “provide the school will tools that strengthen the climate by learning and supporting yoga and mindfulness classes, which blends several forms of yoga, mindfulness practices, Tai-Chi and other self-healing arts. The practices reduce stress, improve health, ease asthma symptoms, promote self-discipline, and improve self-regulation. Using the yoga and mindfulness classes will support the school environment and help improve the surrounding community's well-being.”
Project Pneuma said it “implements interactive yoga and mindfulness, deep breathing exercises and focus drills, sound therapy, martial arts, physical fitness and wellness, and exposure programs through age appropriate social and emotional learning practices."
While the bulk of the yoga spending went to these two companies, another $61,296 was spent on other yoga classes and materials like yoga mats, headphones, jump ropes, yoga blocks and aroma starter kits.
The district provided training for teachers and staff in trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness to help students transition back into classrooms and in-person learning, according to the records.
Some of the yoga mats were “for students to use as a guide to socially distance while outside during mask breaks.”
Classes started as young as with pre-K students, there was after-school yoga and yoga teachers even led parents in workshops.
At least one parent yoga session was catered. For about $400, parents were given snacks during their session
The programming included virtual yoga sessions like “7 Stress Busting Tips” and “Laughter Yoga” as well as “Energy Work” and “Sound Therapy."
Baltimore schools responded to our request for comment:
In the wake of COVID-19, our focus on students' social-emotional and physical wellness has intensified as we work to support our young people in navigating the stress, loss, and grief stemming from the pandemic. Two long-standing partners - The Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) and Project Neuma - offer programs outside of our regular curriculum to help our students learn important strategies for increasing self-awareness and self-discipline, practicing self-care, exercising mental focus, managing stress, and cultivating empathy for others. Yoga is just one small component the partners employ to help young people achieve these aims.
Our Blueprint for Success has three key focus areas – Literacy, Leadership and Wholeness; these programs fall under the wholeness category by focusing on student wellness. Our student wholeness program does not fall under our physical education curriculum.