When no Child is Left Behind, Really

This week, students in California's Encinitas Union School District will participate in a new life-skills curriculum. The new program includes yoga, nutrition, character education, goal setting and wellness. Can someone say sign me up!

This week also marks the ten-year anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, which according to a 2012 Gallup poll, American parents rated more negatively than positively. If California is the place where new ideas incubate and, if viable, thrive, are we hearing the start of new dialogue for school districts? Let's hope so because dare say education, in the eyes of those being educated, be construed as a positive.

If we reach back to our collective memory, how many remember squirming and fidgeting in class, looking out the window, bored and hoping for something immediate and interesting to happen? Flash forward years later and you're doing the same thing in your office, wishing for a "field trip," a golf outing with clients, or maybe if you're lucky a continuing education course in a nice hotel ballroom.

Creativity is said to be a driver of the U.S. economic recovery. But how can that be if we're stuck in chairs uninspired?

States of boredom lead to constantly hunting for a gratification payoff -- action is put into play, we feel it, and then we move on. We don't want to sit, think, reflect, ruminate or learn. Through the constant (oftentimes superficial) stimulation of technology, media and entertainment, we feel and experience so much that our central nervous system is completely charged and overtaxed. Or, the opposite, depression ensues. Put together, it's like pollen floating in the air, spreading allergens, trickling down to the little ones in our world, not to mention onto our collective psyche as a whole.

Which is why the Encinitas School District's life-skills curriculum as part of the education process appears particularly attractive. To truly learn something is to apply it, but most schooling is theoretical and the subtext in education of why we learn, completely absent. Of course kids hear, "If you don't do good in school you won't get into a good college. If you don't get into a good college, you won't get a good job." But a kid's protean gray matter doesn't process logic the same way experienced adults do. The effect is little more than transferred stress. Until the child experiences for himself it's hard to appreciate, hence the education conundrum: How to show a child that learning is beneficial to them?

When a child has good learning experiences, i.e. actually learns something, and feels the satisfaction and accomplishment of learning, then he/she bonds with the learning process and those around it. (They bond even more when the activity is done with friends.) This is why studies show yoga improved students' behavior, physical health and academic performance, as well as attitudes toward themselves. By moving into a posture, yoga helps to experience a sense of accomplishment using the most organic measurement known to man: the body. The empirical evidence lies within the individual, to access his/her own positive or negative experience. When negative, the teacher and student work with the body, mind and spirit to move through the challenge. When positive, the benefits to the student, school, teacher, community can be enormous.

School districts like Encinitas, who are leading the way, identify the whole child. This not only fosters better learning but leverages the bond of learning between the education process and the child, a sort of cross-pollination if you will.

Last year when EUSD partnered with the Jois Foundation to create "the possibility of self-mastery in our students through Health & Wellness, Yoga, Gardening, Nutrition and Arts instruction," the districtreceived a grant, plus the manpower of several learned yoga teachers. A pilot program was tested and has now been expanded into covering gardening and nutrition, music, dance and theater. Russell Case, Program Director at the Jois Foundation and Director of Ashtanga Yoga at Stanford, said "the Foundation plans to expand the program to schools with 90-95 percent free and reduced lunch in an effort to reduce stress in marginalized populations, and develop wellness and character programs".

I hope this marks the beginning of new dialogue for school districts. One that leaves behind the abject frustration of parents, teachers and students yet truly leaves no child behind.