Art of Living Well – July 2014

Using Art, Poetry, and Yoga to Change Student Behavior
Do you consider yourself an agent of change? Do you stand up, speak out, and often go against the norm in order to have a positive impact on the community? If we wish to cultivate a thriving community, each of us must be willing to show up and play our part. In some cases, that requires thinking outside of the box in order to explore alternative options when our current system is no longer effective. That is precisely what one local non-profit is choosing to do.

Hope at Hand, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that is on a quest to transform Jacksonville through teaching children and adults creative ways to process their emotions and cultivate inner peace. Through the use of yoga, poetry, art, journaling, and other creative expression techniques, this organization is on a mission to increase self-awareness of reactive behavioral patterns that perpetuate stress.

We all know that true transformation happens from the inside out, which is why Hope at Hand, Inc. has created a project in collaboration with John E. Ford K-8 School to bring these life changing skills into the public school system. According to Hope at Hands, Inc. Executive Director, Steffani Hendricks Fletcher, the John E. Ford K-8 wellness project is “designed to rebuild a peaceful learning environment similar to a Montessori school by adding new and innovative components including yoga, art, and poetry strategies.”

John E. Ford K-8 School struggles with a high number of disciplinary problems that has dramatically impacted the overall academic achievement and effective implantation of the curriculum. Fletcher states that, “the new leadership at the school recognizes the need to change the school culture and climate in order to improve the behavior and academic achievement of students.” In order to address the root cause of the low test scores and disciplinary problems, Hope at Hand will focus their efforts on establishing a cultural climate that embraces a whole person approach to learning. By addressing the social and emotional needs of the entire student body, they hope to empower each child with practical life skills that will improve their overall health, happiness, and academic success.

Project Goals for the John E. Ford K-8 School
1. Incorporate daily age-appropriate yoga into the classroom setting in order to decrease
stress and increase self-awareness
2. Train teachers and staff how to lead the daily yoga exercises and create a calm and
peaceful classroom environment
3. Incorporate traditional Hope at Hand art and poetry strategies into the instruction program
4. Increase the percent of students proficient in math from 37% to 60%
5. Increase the percent of students reading at grade level from 47% to 60%
6. Reduce the number of disciplinary referrals from 613 to 306
7. Add the services of a part-time mental health counselor

Fletcher states that, “the innovative aspect of this project is that these various components, drawn from separate and independent disciplines, will be carefully integrated and merged into an entirely novel and unique package with a very specific goal—to convert a school that is currently characterized by and disrupted by the reactive patterns of student behavior into a school that is more appropriately portrayed by a serene and peaceful Montessori learning environment where students have internalized the positive benefits of thinking before acting and taking personal responsibility for their actions.” Fletcher and her team are currently seeking to raise funds in order to implement this program fully at the school. More information about this organization can be found online at

A community that values the emotional needs of the next generation is a community destined to thrive. It’s time to be proactive and consciously impact the direction of our city, even if it means being unconventional.

About Kristi Lee Schatz