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Depew schools incorporate yoga into curriculum; mats purchased for every student

When Depew schools decided on a hybrid learning model, teachers knew physical education still needed to be a focus, and they figured out a way to keep kids moving.

DEPEW, N.Y. — Some classes are easier to teach virtually than others, and teachers and administrators in Depew knew they'd have to think outside of the box when it came to physical education.

"Phys ed is such an in-person activity at school, and it's something we needed them to be here for, but when that couldn't happen we needed to be creative in our ways to get them active and moving at home," said high school physical education teacher, Erik Petersen.

When COVID threw a wrench into traditional teaching plans, the Depew Union Free School District decided to go with the flow — yoga flow that is.

"Yoga helps build the mind and the body. It gives us endorphins. It makes us feel good. It helps with our stretching and our strength," said Depew High School health teacher Kelly Kacalski.

She had previously done some breathing and stretching exercises with her students in class, but the district wanted to get all students involved and have them do yoga at home.

The district didn't want students to share mats, so they bought a yoga mat for every student to take home.

Credit: Depew Union Free School District

"I can't pick and choose who's going to get yoga mats. It really has to be all or nothing, so I asked if the vendor could get us 1,875 yoga mats for all K through 12 and remote students," said Bob Skoczylas, Depew High School Assistant Principal, athletic director, and director of health and physical education.

The district got a grant that covered most of the cost, and physical education teachers in the districts adjusted their annual budgets to cover the remaining cost.

Staff tweaked their curriculum to incorporate yoga.

"We've started with some basic stuff: neck, shoulder, and back area. Stuff when they are sitting. Last class, we moved into some flexibility positions. Just some simple stuff to not scare anybody away, give them the confidence and the feeling that they can do it," said Petersen.

Petersen said students of all ages are learning that yoga can work for just about anyone. Each student is taking something different away from each practice.

"A young man in one of my classes couldn't do one of the stretches. He couldn't get his hands all the way down to the ground, and he was just flabbergasted. 'I'm such a good athlete.' It was a little eye-opening for him," said Petersen.

Credit: Depew Union Free School District

He said there's always room for improvement and encourages students to set individual goals for themselves.

"No matter what level of fitness you are at, you can always get better. It's about you. It's a personal thing," said Petersen.

Teachers aren't just doing yoga in gym class. Teachers at the elementary school are incorporating quick yoga breaks during Zoom learning sessions to wake the kids up and keep them motivated.

Many students are sharing their new love for yoga with their parents and siblings.

"Families are working out together, which is so important in making connections. Any time we can get families working out together and feeling good, that's a big win for us," said Skoczylas.

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