Student empowerment a breath of fresh air

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014
youth empowerment
KIRK HARGREAVES/ Fairfax NZ

ZEN: Hornby High School students Shane Stewart, 14, left, and Billy Roper, 14, practise yoga as part of a youth empowerment model that the school used Red Cross funding to bring to the country.

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Empowerment seminars are breathing new life into stress management for students at a Christchurch high school.

Hornby High School is the first in the Southern Hemisphere to enlist the help of Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES) - an American not-for-profit programme that teaches breathing exercises and skills for dealing with life challenges.

The programme has been proven to raise student grades, decrease violence at school, and lessen the number of students dropping out of school, the visiting instructor says.

Using Red Cross funding, the school has brought an instructor to New Zealand to work with its Year 9 and 10 students for three hours a week, for five weeks.

Instructor Jenna Granger said techniques like breathing, yoga, and empowering life skills helped control emotional reactions. It offered different options for students that did not involve drugs, alcohol, violence, or social media.

"I feel like kids have so much on their minds, at school and in their home life.

"There is so much stress, especially here in Christchurch."

In schools that taught the empowerment seminars through all year levels over the past five years, violence had gone down, grades had picked up, and there were fewer students dropping out of school.

Granger has been using breathing exercises since she was 13 years old, after learning it at summer camp in America.

"Your breath is free and you have it all the time. To be able to use that as a tool is really helpful.

"A lot of adults haven't even learned these techniques."

Hornby was the first school to take on the programme in the Southern Hemisphere, but Granger hoped to bring it to others by training teachers here in New Zealand.

Deputy principal Karen Wheeler said even if stress did not present itself, it could be underlying in everyone.

Learning could only happen for students in a healthy, relaxed state.

"We're aware of the fact that for all young people, everybody that went through the earthquakes, it has an effect. And life is stressful anyway."

It was early days but students were enjoying it and that was the main thing, she said.

Social studies teacher Albert Peseta said his students were a lot more responsive after using the exercises.

Shane Stewart, 14, said he often used the breathing exercises in class. "You get frustrated at something and you remember it's not really helpful reacting."

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