Unique School Program Encourages Kids to Move
Returning to Brunswick County after twelve years in New York City, where she taught dance to Brooklyn school kids, Nancy Smith volunteered as a lunch buddy at Shallotte Middle School. “I missed the kids and the public-school setting,” she says.
She was sad to learn that the children have physical education class only once every six days while arts programming is minimal, especially dramatic and expressionist art.
A professional dancer and teacher, Smith had founded Movement Works in southern Brunswick County shortly after her return. The studio teaches several forms of dance, yoga, and martial arts.
“The people who come there have resources, and their kids have resources, but it’s a small percentage of kids being exposed to any holistic movement practices such as tai chi, yoga, partner yoga, any form of dance such as tap, ballet or jazz.” She felt compelled to take those practices to the public schools.
After discussing and brainstorming with her contacts around the County, Smith formed a non-profit, complete with a board of directors, to take movement into the schools. Community Movement Alliance not only has support from the community, but the teaching staff at Movement Works volunteers to take their specialties to the kids.
“In New York City, there’s a lot of emphasis on arts programming in the schools. There’s an initiative called Dance for Every Child by Jody Arnhold who founded Dance Education Laboratory,” Smith says.A graduate of DEL, Smith embraces the philosophy that dance can facilitate the learning of math, science, literature and other core subjects. “You can enhance the learning.” Teaching the whole child is critical, she said.
A graduate of DEL, Smith embraces the philosophy that dance can facilitate the learning of math, science, literature and other core subjects. “You can enhance the learning.” Smith believes that teaching the whole child is critical.
“I’m thinking about the rambunctious boys I see in class who don’t test well or pay attention in math class,” Smith adds. “Some might say they’re not intelligent, but I watch them in yoga and they’re cooperating and collaborating, so it’s obvious they’re intelligent.”
Thanks to fundraisers and support, which includes a $1,000 grant from ATMC for the purchase of 100 yoga mats and another from Lululemon, programming has begun in three local schools.
An after-school program called Moves is active at Jesse Mae Monroe Elementary School. Through it, second and third-graders have yoga classes after school while fourth and fifth-graders participate in Tai Chi.
“It gives the students both the joy of movement and of stillness,” Smith shares. The emphasis is on leadership, community service, academic excellence, physical fitness and cultural arts awareness – a lot in a little bundle! The participating students (40 in yoga and 12 in Tai Chi) stay after school with the permission of their parents.
An in-school initiative called Everybody Moves has its first incarnation at Lincoln Elementary where the yoga club has been added to the Friday Club Day program (which also includes a fitness club, government club, and career club). Collaborating with teachers and administrators to address the specific needs of the student body, the in-school program is for fourth and fifth- graders. Smith is hopeful that other schools will be receptive to adding in-school programming so that more students have the opportunity to participate.
“Principal Molly White at Lincoln is one of the top 50 principals in our nation right now,” Smith says. “She gets it. She’s all about mindfulness programming, which is why she sought me out.”
Making the program available in-school, versus after-school, means that more students are exposed to things they might not otherwise experience. “The kids that need it are going home on the bus; their parents didn’t sign them up because their parents don’t know what yoga and Tai Chi are,” Smith says.
A third program in the County is for exceptional children at Town Creek Elementary and Jesse Mae Monroe, where Smith regularly volunteers.
“I volunteer for this because they’re teaching me and hopefully I’m bringing a little joy into their day. Their needs are all over the map: not just behavioral also physical. It covers the spectrum. I’m trying to get a handle on it and what can help these kids,” she says.
Smith’s immediate goals include securing more equipment and having a home base in each of the schools. One parent has made a traveling yoga mat rack, which helps greatly.
The greater goal, of course, is to truly make a difference in the lives of Brunswick County students, many of whom live at or below the poverty level. “There’s the big picture that through exposure these kids come to know that there is a big world of possibilities outside of their little world. We want to spark imagination and passion.”
National Kids Yoga Day is April 7.
Fundraising for Community Movement Alliance includes:
- 9:30 am, each Saturday, May to September, donation-based yoga at Sunset Beach park
- Second Annual Carolina Soul Festival (coming in September)