ACUSHNET — After a typical full day of school on Thursday, 14 kindergarten and first grade students settled into a stretch of open hallway, rolled out their rubberized foam mats and settled into place for after-school yoga. It may have taken some redirections (“Let’s not climb up the wall,” “Put that down, please,”) but within minutes, instructor and third grade special education teacher Linda Zaunere Paknis had a group of silent 5- and 7-year-olds promptly following instructions that involved yogic terms like “asana,” and “Sun Salutation.”
“I always try to use language that will enrich a student and make them curious,” she later explained.
After warming up with some movements, mindful breathing and other opening exercises, Paknis queued up a rainforest mode on her sound machine and told students to put any distractive thoughts “on a cloud and watch the cloud float away,” as they readied for a mental field trip — and an opportunity to insert some more cross-teaching.
ESSER funding results: From painting to soccer to 3-D modeling, after-school programs a ‘big hit’ with students
“As you walk along you take a deep breath in and become aware of the fragrance of the rainforest,” Paknis said to the group of still captivated students, now seated with eyes closed. “You can smell the sweet fragrance of plants and flowers that are so beautiful… magenta orchids, purple passion flowers, and orange monkey brush.”
The guided tour was a script she had crafted with a plan in mind. “When I was doing my research on flowers in the rainforest I came across orange monkey brush. I thought it was interesting so I knew I wanted to include it. During another session, I might ask them to draw it.”
Thursday’s session came with its own art component, as students were given art supplies and asked to pick from a selection of print-outs of positive affirmations in stylized lettering to color in, such as “I am creative,” “I am important,” and “I am loved.”
“I like to do my chores and clean up after myself,” first grader Brooklyn, 7, said about her selection of “I am helpful.”
Big demand for activities
The yoga class was part of Acushnet’s after-school program, which staff say has been a huge hit since starting up. Its present incarnation — which includes gardening, game, science and space clubs to name a few — came back this school year after what kindergarten and grade 1 special education teacher Lisa Carvalho estimates to be about 20 years without one.
“It’s been a long time since we had anything like this,” said Carvalho, who has worked at the school for 26 years and now coordinates the ESSER grant funded after-school program. “People are really happy with it. I’ve gotten a lot of nice emails from parents.”
Acushnet Public Schools received $688,273 from the ESSER III fund for 2022, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education website.
According to Acushnet Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Paula Bailey, the current session of after-school programming has an enrollment of 260 of the school’s total of 547 students. The previous session had 240. Bailey credits staff dedication and genuine enthusiasm for the programming’s success.
“This has been teacher-led and our staff are strong advocates for promoting these activities as they know it’s a great thing for kids. For me, the best part of my day is when I see and feel the joy from our students and staff with whatever they are doing,” Bailey said. “Teachers have been happy to have fun after school with a variety of students and showcase their skills that aren’t necessarily showcased in everyday teaching. The climate has been amazing.”
Paknis — who says she has been practicing yoga ever since picking it up from her mother — would agree, as she happily passes knowledge down that has proven beneficial to her.
“It’s empowering,” she said.
Click here for more information on ESSER grant funding allocations.
This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: Acushnet after-school programs: ESSER funding, yoga, games, gardening