When she taught abroad, Clarice Proeschel learned how to communicate with others despite a language barrier. At the community school in Buffalo where she teaches art, she follows a similar principle, using concepts of yoga to communicate with students struggling with social-emotional barriers.
At PS 89, Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence, Proeschel teaches grades 4-8, introducing students to a diverse group of artists. But that’s the pedagogy part. Then there is the attention to students’ social-emotional needs. Proeschel said during the pandemic, students lost “a lot of basic skills, simple skills, which we’ve had to build up.” They struggle with attention, being around other students and teacher authority. There are a lot of conflicts, she said, and using yoga and mindfulness can help with these.
Proeschel, a member of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, and other teachers met with NYSUT officials during visits earlier this month to West Hertel Academy and PS 89 in Buffalo. NYSUT’s quest is for new annual state funding of $100 million for more community schools — a cornerstone of the union’s Future Forward campaign.
PS 89 has a mindfulness room, which includes a supply of yoga mats. During the common advisory period in the middle of the day, Proeschel sometimes takes groups of girls into the room for some talk time and then some yoga. She hopes to do some outside yoga with students as well.
“They love it. It’s fun. They enjoy moving,” she said.
If a particular class in this community school is disruptive, Proeschel will have students do some breathing exercises and get out of their seats for some yoga movements.
She uses yoga’s mindful techniques for everyday situations. Art class sometimes begins with 10 minutes of silence or quiet music, dimmed lights and a focus on breathing. Students will be asked to think about how they perceive the art-making process, how they can stay focused and how they avoid judging the process of their art.
Employing the breath, Proeschel said, is a basic skill that can be used to become aware of one’s state of mind. If a person stops when they are angry and checks in with their body, they might realize their heart is beating fast and their breathing is hard, and when they are like this, they are apt to make reactive decisions. By focusing on the breath, not the problem, and pausing, they can come to make a choice for a next step that will serve them, not hurt them. Students often have a hard time controlling their impulses, she said.
The school hosts a monthly Saturday Academy for students and families, and Proeschel holds yoga classes there, as well as some art classes. She is a certified children’s and adult yoga teacher and a trauma-informed, community-based yoga instructor.
The school also implements restorative practices to help with student conflicts — who was harmed and how to move forward — and to redirect the cycle of students fixating on what separates them.
Statewide, approximately 300 out of more than 700 school districts utilize the community school model. Funding would allow for more community schools and the hiring of community school coordinators to help develop programming and connect families in need with services not provided by the school itself.
Buffalo’s 24 community schools offer health clinics, parent centers and the Saturday Academy program attended by more than 11,000 students, parents and community members this school year alone. These schools offer wellness and legal clinics, virtual and in-person workshops, and additional resources in collaboration with community-based organizations.