One Thing That Worked

Each week, we have our teachers from the Sonima Foundation send in a report of how their week of classes in the public schools have gone. They send in a write up of what worked, what didn’t, what problems they encountered and solutions they used to try to fix them. All of our programs are run in schools that have challenging populations.

Though each week we have inspiring stories coming in, this one, from Melanie Jane Parker, is particularly worth reading.

7. Extra, Extra
This afternoon I was leaving the building and walked by the security desk, where three security guards were standing around one of my students. (I actually failed this student last semester—she was hardly ever in class and when she did attend, she was exceptionally disruptive. But I’ve been working extra hard to connect with her this semester, and things have improved.)
I said hello to her and she looked at me and said, “I need yoga right now.” I said okay, let’s do it. I asked the security guards if she and I could go sit outside the auditorium, where there is a table and some chairs. They said yes, and on our way there I asked her what was going on. She said that a student from the charter school next door was trying to fight her.
We sat down in chairs across from each other. I asked her to sit upright with both feet on the floor and to close her eyes. First I just had her breathe (when she first sat down, her chest was rising and falling quite rapidly). Then I asked her to close her eyes and say what she was feeling. She said, “Angry. Frustrated. Upset.” I instructed her to silently acknowledge these feelings as she inhaled, and then to consciously let go as she exhaled. We did several rounds of this. Once I saw the breath in her chest change, I had her rub her palms together to create warmth, bring her palms to her face, and gently let her hands slide down her face. (This is something I learned at Genny’s—when we relax the facial nerves, the brain softens.) We did several rounds of this, too. Then we just sat and breathed. After about 10 minutes, a teacher came by to take her to the subway, but she said, “No, you can go, I’m okay. I’m doing some yoga.” The teacher and I signaled to each other and I offered to take her to the train when we were finished.
After our impromptu session we returned to the security desk. One of the guards said, “That’s it? It worked?” She said, “Yes, that’s what I was telling you, I needed my yoga. Yoga is everything. Yoga is everything.” I told the guards that I would take her to the train, and another guard said, “Wow, I can’t believe that worked, she was really… maybe I need yoga!”
I walked her to the L train and she told me more about the situation with the girl from Girls’ Prep. She plays it like she’s tough but I got the sense that she’s actually scared. I advised her to #1. Avoid any situations in which she would come into contact with this person; #2. To immediately find an adult if she does come into contact with this person; #3. To walk away and absolutely not retaliate if, goodness forbid, this person does touch her. Her response to that was, “What? Don’t hit her if she hits me? That’s not what my mom taught me.” I then pointed out to her that if she retaliates, she’s putting herself in the position of dealing with a lot of negative consequences that she’s much better off not taking on. I repeated that she must walk away if she feels provoked, and by the time we reached the train station, she seemed to have heard me.
I felt nervous putting her on the train by herself, even though I know this is how she travels every day, more than once a day. I wrote a full report for the principal and the dean. I’m hoping that everyone keeps an eye on her and has the time to sit down and listen to what she’s working through. She’s so smart and so self-aware, and needs constant and consistent support in her process of developing an emotional life that is more reflective than reactive. I am beyond proud of her for recognizing when and how she needed support.
And we are proud of you, MJ Parker, for your dedication to your students!