MONONA, Wis. — A Wisconsin school district is using yoga to help students with their mental health through the pandemic.

Michelle Schaub is a librarian at Monona Grove High School. Even before the pandemic, she noticed that students could use more emotional support.

“[I saw] the need for students to and staff to have that nurturing component at these older ages. We're so good at that in elementary school,” she said. “Then, the intensity of the older grades gets to be a lot for everyone. And we lose our ability to take care of ourselves and prioritize that.” 

Once the SARS CoV-2 virus hit, she knew high schoolers would be struggling.

“Students are running through their day, sitting way too long, rushing from one place to the next, trying to keep on top of everything,” she said.

Schaub wanted to give students a safe space through yoga.

“Some things in life made me look at yoga as a way to kind of self-regulate and find some compassion for myself in those moments,” she said. “And it allowed me to see that that was a pathway that I could facilitate, to help students and staff.”

She said the district and the community bought into the idea right away. Using money distributed from Dane County through the Federal CARES Act, Schaub and 14 other staff members went through yoga certification. 

It took hundreds of hours through the Breathe for Change program, based in California. Overall, it cost about $20,000.

The yoga club now meets a couple times a week in the library. It’s already made a difference for students like sophomore Aaliyah Rogers.

“I was also able to be social, practice mindfulness, and it's just a quiet space that I can just enjoy,” Rogers said.

The room is also equipped with bolsters and yoga mats that students can grab anytime they want.

It’s making a difference for other kids too. After a turbulent year and a half, it’s helping them find ways to slow down, even if just for a moment.

“People are coming back, and they're bringing friends, both students and staff. I really love that it's building community,” Schaub said. “Because we practice together, there's not a student club and a staff club. We are all here breathing in unison. And it's wonderful.”