Ravenswood school district to integrate mindfulness, yoga into regular curriculum

Stanford University to study benefits of new health and wellness program

All 3,400 students in the Ravenswood City School District will soon have yoga and mindfulness as a regular part of their curriculum as the result of a new partnership between the district and the Sonima Foundation, a Southern California-based nonprofit that brings health and wellness education to K-12 schools throughout the country.

A subset of these 3,400 East Palo Alto and Menlo Park students, about 700 third- and fifth-graders, will also participate in a four-year Stanford University study that will investigate the impact of the Sonima Foundation's curriculum on stress, coping skills, physical health and social-emotional development.

The school district and foundation officially launched their partnership Wednesday afternoon at Costaño Elementary School in East Palo Alto, with a group of students – and Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck, who serves on the Sonima Foundation board – leading each other through a series of yoga poses in front of a crowd including Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff, Sonima Executive Director Eugene Ruffin and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.

"As an educator, I see firsthand the impact that health and wellness have on our students' ability to learn and thrive," Gina Sudaria, principal of Costaño School and the 49ers Academy, told the crowd gathered in Costaño's gym. "Whether you are a student who exceeds performance standards, a student with severe disabilities, a student coping with post traumatic stress disorder or a student whose first day to enroll in a U.S. school is today, across the district we pride ourselves on the fact that we educate and nurture any student who crosses the threshold of our classroom doors to meet their full potential."

She stressed that health and wellness is essential to helping students perform well academically and also helps to create a supportive, trusting school climate.

Costaño, along with Belle Haven School, Brentwood Academy, Cesar Chavez & Green Oaks Academy, Los Robles Dual Immersion Magnet Academy, Ronald McNair Middle School and Willow Oaks School will all implement the foundation's curriculum, and some have already started.

Stanford University's Victor Carrion, who works in the Stanford Child Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic and for more than 15 years studied the impact of early-life stress on children, particularly in East Palo Alto schools, said the Sonima Foundation approach is geared toward sustainability and long-term impact rather than short-term intervention. Carrion will be spearheading the Stanford investigation of the curriculum's impact.

"There's always some interest in East Palo Alto," Carrion said in an interview with the Weekly. "People go and do something ... and the community lingers again until somebody else wants to come and do some other project. I didn't want it to be that way, and the Sonima Foundation didn't want it to be that way either."

The foundation's K-12 curriculum, which is currently in place in 54 schools in California, Florida, New York and Texas, is a combination of physical education, body flexibility and movement, nutrition and coping skills. As early as kindergarten, students are taught skills like breathing and stretching at the same time as acting with kindness and positive thinking.

"Imagine this — if you start taking this (class) when you're in kindergarten, by the time you're a fourth grader, you don't even think about it," Carrion said. "It's a part of your life. You brush your teeth and you think positively."

This is exactly what Carrion will examine in his study, which will be completed under the auspices of the Stanford University School of Medicine's Early Life Stress and Pediatric Anxiety Program (ELSPAP) at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Researchers will recruit a group of third and fifth graders from throughout the district to participate in a series of assessments over the next four years to measure their academic and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, emotional and behavioral functioning, stress-related hormone levels, sleep patterns and brain activity and structure, according to a Stanford press release. (They chose third graders so they can follow them over the course of a few essential developmental years and fifth graders to be able to compare to similar data collected at two Sonima Foundation partner-schools, one in Encinitas and one in Harlem.)

This work is familiar for Carrion, who first studied mindfulness in East Palo Alto schools in 2004 as part of an effort to evaluate the impact of a treatment protocol he and others at Stanford developed for children and adolescents who have been exposed to trauma. This treatment, dubbed the Cue-Centered Treatment (CCT) Protocol, is about educating children so that they can find understanding of and control over their own reactions to stress, rather than receiving external treatment.

"You don't want a kid to be in treatment for life. CCT is about empowering children to understand the normal human reaction to stress and how to counteract that," Carrion said. "It basically makes them their own agent of change through education. It's empowerment through knowledge."

Part and parcel to that knowledge is a toolbox of coping skills, many of which draw from mindfulness, such as meditation, relaxation and deep breathing.

"We said, 'OK, so we have this treatment here that works for those kids that are already showing some signs – but could we even work before that?'"

Carrion, school officials and others hope the Sonima Foundation program will help the answer to that question be a resounding "yes."

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


2 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 22, 2015 at 11:20 am

Oh good lord. What is the point? EPA doesn't have a public high school. Until we stop busing children to Carlmont, Woodside, and MA, there will be disharmony. The kids need a local school! The elementary schools do a great job - but then it's off to hours on the bus, a remote community, and come home to a disparate friendship group. Tired, lonely, disaffected kids - can we offer them yoga? Please. Or is that too hard, and not so pretty?

7 people like this
Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2015 at 11:35 am

This is excellent! I wish mindfulness training was available to me when I was in elementary school - it would have helped a lot. Yoga and nutrition instruction will also be very beneficial. I think manners and etiquette should also be taught as parents (most that I've encountered in Palo Alto and Menlo Park)seem to have forgotten these skills.

3 people like this
Posted by Pearl
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Pearl is a registered user.

Yep, yoga and mindfulness...that'll get them jobs!!!! What are you people thinking of?!? What a waste of time and taxpayer dollars!!! Why don't you people teach them MARKETABLE SKILLS, such as how to write a check, how to count out change, how to prepare a simple tax return, how to write a resume, communication skills, how to interview for a job, practical, everyday skills that will enable students to function on their own after they graduate, and they're out there facing the real world all by themselves. Yoga and mindfulness...YOU PEOPLE HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!! SHAME, SHAME, SHAME!!!

6 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Pearl - quit screaming and go read the article. Maybe you'll then understand your inaccuracies.

Ellen - ditto. This isn't about high school students.

12 people like this
Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Ellen and Pearl: do a little Google search re mindfulness. It's a really good coping skill that will help the individual throughout his/her life. Maybe it would benefit you as well :)

1 person likes this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 22, 2015 at 2:20 pm

This is great news indeed! Hoping they would introduce this program in PA schools as well.

1 person likes this
Posted by revdreileen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm

revdreileen is a registered user.

Ellen, as of the 2015-16 school year, all EPA students will be in the Menlo-Atherton H.S. attendance area.

1 person likes this
Posted by Doubtful
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 22, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Many EPA families of faith will be offended by the spiritual aspects of yoga and mindfulness being introduced to their children (even if the Sonima Foundation insists these practices are secular...their roots are not). These same families may not feel able to articulate their objections, and, due to language and tech barriers, may not even find out about it until long after the program has begun. I am hoping families will be required to opt in rather than expected to overcome pressure to opt out?

1 person likes this
Posted by Chrisc
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Teaching mindfulness in schools is a very good trend. There has been great success in other districts in the country. Gratitude "training" has also been proven helpful starting with kids. The person who said something about getting jobs needs to Google all this stuff. That's not what it's directly about,but, yes, it will help in the future to get through school, to make good choices, to focus, to set goals, and to succeed. Bravo EPA. Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Erica
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2015 at 8:15 am

This is amazing!! Our local school district is trying something different for a change. I commend the leadership and know the kids will benefit from this experience. Thank you for bringing our school district up to speed on things. By the way there is nothing wrong with being bused outside of EPA for school. I was one of them and I loved it!

1 person likes this
Posted by Matt
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 8:16 am

Its about time we taught Buddhism in public schools!

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Abramson
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 28, 2015 at 10:12 am

I direct the mindfulness based stress reduction clinic and Stanford University Medical School. In the 20 years since we founded the course we have seen it's impact on our community taking the course as part of their medical treatment and students at the university taking if for credit but also because they are suffering stress and anxiety in their lives.

Participants are always commenting "why wasn't I taught this in elementary school' and my response is always "someday" well now that day has come!

This is not only seen as important to the elementary student but next month we have a meeting set up with the chief of staff at Stanford Hospital to see how we can train incoming physician residents so they can have these skills for their difficult years of training.

It's never too late to have a happy childhood.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 18 comments | 5,616 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,718 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 1,557 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 1,552 views

Stay a part of their day
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 586 views


Register now!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info