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Teachers throughout Hillsborough County and the country are retreating to Dawson Elementary to Breathe For Change

July 03, 2018 - Points of Pride

Educators from not only Hillsborough County, but throughout Florida and the nation, retreated to Warren Hope Dawson Elementary School in Riverview from June 14-30 to immerse themselves in a rigorous and transformative 200-hour yoga certification program called Breathe For Change.

Breathe For Change is an organization that aims to improve health and well-being of students and teachers and entire school communities. Once they complete this training, these K-12 educators will become certified yoga instructors.

How did Dawson Elementary become the host site for this program? Well, it is thanks to Assistant Principal Ashley Wiese. She was reflecting on how much she loves her job, but was aware of how much she tends to give and not take care of herself, in her reflection she was reminded she is her most peaceful self during yoga, so she researched becoming an instructor on the side, and it was meant to be that she came across Breathe For Change.

“As educators, we do all the heavy lifting, and when we are at our strongest — mind, body and spirit, we can do really great work and really commit to difficult challenging work, social justice and work towards more equitable schools,” Wiese said. Breathe For Change had a desire to launch in Florida, and so with the support of Dawson’s Principal, Derrick McLaughlin, they reached out to the Chief Operating Officer at Breathe For Change to make plans to host this training.

Breathe For Change currently hosts trainings in 11 cities across the country empowering teachers as wellness champions.  And these teachers are now going into schools to give other teachers and their students the tools to perform better in school. Participants at Dawson were lucky enough to have Ilana Nankin, the founder and CEO of Breathe For Change, at the training. She earned her Ph.D in curriculum and instruction and was an educator before starting Breathe for Change.

“This all started when I was a Pre-K teacher and found that practicing yoga and mindfulness totally transformed my well-being," Nankin said. "I wanted to incorporate some yoga practices into my classroom and I saw unbelievable changes in my students social, emotionally and academically."

Throughout the day, yogis could be found journaling for self-reflection, mediating, breaking off into small groups, joining together in calming circle to read passages and stand strong together for a community tree pose. It is easy to see the bond that is created in this room full of wellness champions.

New to Hillsborough County, Annie McNamara said the transformation she has seen through this program is beautiful. It has motivated her to move here, and she will be teaching at Young Middle Magnet school for the 2018-19 school year. She cannot wait to share this knowledge with her staff, faculty and students at her new school, and promote wellness in Hillsborough County as a wellness champion.

Carolyn Kriete, who teachers first grade at Dawson, is excited for the opportunity to bring mindfulness to her students and collaborate with other teachers to bring yoga, not only to teachers but to the parents as well.

“I am looking forward to using this certification to help make my students more aware of social injustices and create a safe place to work through our feelings -- incorporate that into our curriculum and hopefully give back to other teachers throughout Hillsborough County through in-service opportunities,” said Jessica Kight, teacher at King High School.

The mission at Breathe For Change is to change the world one teacher at a time, and at Dawson, their mission is to provide hope for the future one child at a time. With these two missions aligned, it truly was a serendipitous sign that they were meant to partner to do some really great work for the world and our students. Hillsborough County Public Schools is excited about this innovative partnership. The program plans to return next year to empower and change the lives of even more educators and can’t wait to see all the good that comes from it. 

To make Breathe For Change accessible and inclusive for all educators, a FREE app will launch in August. Through the app members will receive wellness and social emotional learning resources, along with professional development live sessions.


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