DUBUQUE, Iowa — Lora Frank-Fuller showed a classroom of first-graders at Fulton Elementary School how to close their eyes, breathe through their noses and “plug” their index and middle fingers into the ground.

“We use this when we have lots of energy and need to calm down,” she said.

Yoga instructors from Challenge to Change Inc. visited Fulton on Thursday to teach students some basic yoga and mindfulness practices.

They will visit the school several more times this year, and will stop by classrooms at three other Dubuque elementary schools. It’s part of a new program being piloted in the Dubuque Community School District.

By including yoga and mindfulness techniques in the classroom, school administrators and staffers hope students will learn skills to regulate their emotions so they can take full advantage of the things they learn in class.

“It helps them to keep more of an even emotional state so they can learn,” said Mae Hingtgen, learning supports and equity liaison for the district.

Challenge to Change yoga instructors will visit students at Fulton, Lincoln, Sageville and Kennedy elementary schools twice this month and then several more times throughout the year.

Those activities will culminate in schoolwide celebrations in April, Hingtgen said. Throughout the coming months, students will learn about movement and relaxation, yoga poses, breath regulation and other subjects, she said.

The effort is being supported by a $20,000 grant the Foundation for Dubuque Public Schools received from the James B. and Melita A. McDonough Foundation.

The grant also will fund up to 23 scholarships for district teachers to be trained in classroom mindfulness and yoga techniques, according to a press release from the Foundation for Dubuque Public Schools.

A goal of the effort is to help children learn about connecting movement with their feelings and the ways they can calm or energize themselves, Hingtgen said. Through yoga, students can be empowered to regulate their own emotions, she said.

On Thursday, Frank-Fuller led students through various yoga poses. Then she read them a children’s book about yoga and led them through a mindfulness meditation.

“Their bodies are constantly going, so it helps them to settle down and teach their body that it’s OK to be quiet and still,” Frank-Fuller said afterward.

First-grader Raevynn Scott said she enjoyed the yoga lesson. She particularly liked the children’s book and the meditation.

“It was awesome because we got to stretch and do some cool things,” she said.

Classmate Khliiyah Baker also said she was excited for the lesson. She said she thought learning yoga would be helpful to her, though she wasn’t yet sure how.

“We get to lay down, and you get to stretch,” she said.

First-grade teacher Sierra Schrobilgen has been implementing some yoga practices into her classroom routine this year.

Though the children were hesitant at first, they became excited about yoga as they learned, Schrobilgen said.

“I think it will help the kids when they’re upset, help them calm down on their own,” she said.

School officials are working with a researcher from The University of Kansas to gauge whether the yoga program improves students’ emotional regulation, Hingtgen said. Data will be gathered from students, parents and teachers.

Molly Schreiber, owner of Challenge to Change, said the classroom yoga program will help children look inward at how they are feeling and to strengthen their self-esteem.

“We want to put Dubuque Community Schools on the map for showing that this works,” she said.

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Telegraph Herald.