BJM Girls Learn Wellness through Yoga and Art with IPEI Grant

January 13, 2016

2015-12-15 16.43.02

Ten girls, ages eight to ten, sit quietly, knee-to-knee, in a circle under tall windows in Beverly J. Martin Elementary (BJM) School’s music room just before dusk on a winter day. Marie Vitucci, BJM enrichment coordinator and children’s yoga teacher, sits in the circle and leads the group in an exercise in which they breathe in, then out, exhaling the word “peace.” She then asks the students to visualize a “yoga star,” instructing them to put it in their pocket to access anytime they need to be calm and present.


After a closing “Namaste,” the girls rise and grab large sketchpads, placing them by their socked feet, as teaching artist Stiller Zusman guides them through various positions and movements that they will soon draw. “Our mission here is to draw ourselves from the inside out,” Zusman tells the students who float gently around the classroom to soothing music, then “freeze” every so often to sketch with crayons their poses by recalling the energy of their previous movements.


Such activities are part of a four-week program called “Art then Yoga,” designed by Vitucci, Zusman, and Melissa Enns, a social worker at BJM, to help develop self-assurance and positive self-image among young girls. Participants are enrolled in A+ Extended Day, an afterschool program at BJM, and attend two art and yoga sessions per week. It is funded by an Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) Red and Gold Grant and supports the the Ithaca City School District (ICSD)’s health curriculum by encouraging physical activity and wellness within the school day and beyond. Red and Gold Grants are one-time awards of up to $500 for projects that strengthen and enrich learning in the ICSD.


“We applied for the grant because we know that yoga and figure drawing can help girls focus on their inner selves and increase their self-esteem and confidence.” The idea, Zusman noted in their grant application, is to introduce a drawing technique “where each child’s awareness of their physical self is the reference for their images.” Further, she said: “The children’s attention is directed to their balance, tension, relationship to gravity, and posture; and this becomes the basis for their drawings. This is a well-known trick in art for accurate, lively figures. It is also a great practice for improving self-awareness.”


This art aspect, Vitucci added, is a “natural partner with yoga, which is also a practice of internal reference.” Vitucci’s yoga teachings during the grant program focus on increasing self-awareness, positive energy, and core strength essential for body alignment.


After just a couple weeks into the program, Vitucci said she noticed a high level of enthusiasm. “The girls ask all week for art and yoga class,” she said. “The group seems to be starting to become an entity. The girls are learning with each other. There seems to be acceptance and letting down of guards. They also seem to want to follow Stiller’s lead and just move gracefully feeling how their bodies work. I am really enjoying this so far! It’s so unique.”


The grant project also includes a communications component in which Enns discusses topics around self-esteem and healthy lifestyles with the participating girls throughout the school day in an effort to help them connect what they learn in the grant program to their regular day. Enns said the girls have responded positively.


“They all report loving it, and learning a lot about yoga and drawing,” she said. “They really enjoy moving their bodies around and then getting in poses that they draw, as well as drawing their bodies inside out. One student said she is learning how to focus on her body and that can teach her how to focus more in school. Another student said that she learns how to get calm, which can help her when she feels angry at school. Another stated that she is going to share things she does to relax with the group next week, and she is excited to do that.”


The grant recipients hope to expand this pilot program to serve more students in the future. “We think that combining the mindful practices of yoga and figure drawing with the opportunities to communicate issues that come at school will help the participants become more successful in school and life.”

Lansing Star published this story by IPEI PR Committee member Heather Zimar:

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