Yoga boosts attendance and test scores at Accelerated School

Children find the "inner me" during yoga classes

“If children learn to understand their feelings, they know how to process them and express themselves, which builds self- esteem and alleviates stress.”'

   – Children's yoga teacher Leah Kalish


If the glowing faces of the grade school-aged students at The Accelerated School in inner-city Los Angeles are any indication, Leah Kalish is no teacher — she is an opener of kids’ hearts and minds. Named 2001 School of the Year by Time magazine, this charter school in South Central Los Angeles — one of the toughest, poorest, most gang-ridden regions in the country — is earning high marks for its integration of culture and the arts into its curriculum. On the syllabus: yoga classes with Leah Kalish.

Program director and instructor Kalish is a member of The National Association for the Education of Young Children and International Alliance for Learning, and co-founder of the Yoga Education Network. And she's a major influence in the success of this remarkable program that's both phys-ed and academic.

At Accelerated, kids learn by doing. Art, music and poetry interweave with arithmetic and grammar for the hands-on experiences that kids love. The results? A 97% average attendance rate, a jump of 93% in Stanford Achievement Test scores, with increases of 35% in reading and 28% in math in the year 2000 alone.

The educational philosophy behind the acceleration of Accelerated? Treat all students as gifted — and make the mind-body connection. “Unless you’re fully engaging the mind and body of the children, they’re not going to be productive,” Accelerated School co-founder Kevin Sved told Time.

The school’s popular yoga program benefits everyone. Teachers report yoga helps students concentrate and focus, and that taking a yoga breathing break helps to create calm classrooms.

Middle schooler Sara had trouble sleeping; now she comes to class fully awake and rested. Second-grader Robbie couldn’t focus at the beginning of the school year; by January he was completing his math workbook pages on time.

“Yoga is not about fixing things." says Kalish. "It’s about making a strong link with yourself.” As one  student put it, “It helps you know the inner me.”

Kalish structures her classes around imaginative play, with traditional poses named for familiar animals and things in nature like “Turtle,” “Waterfall,” “River,” “Dog” and “Tree.” Games such as “Can you stay still?” are a surprising hit with more rambunctious youngsters.

Yoga offers lifelong emotional and social fitness benefits by teaching concentration, focus, critical thinking, creativity, perseverance, confidence and relaxation. Says Kalish: “If children can do yoga to learn to understand their feelings, they know how to process them and express themselves, which builds self-esteem and alleviates stress.”

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