Weekly yoga classes for teachers at Cardinal Schools will begin next week. The sessions are one component of Joel Pedersen’s plan of addressing four areas of health concerns for his staff: financial, spiritual, emotional and physical.

ELDON — Stress plays a big part in our lives. Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen has seen the research on the impact it can have on teachers and decided to bring in a program to help combat it.

Beginning Wednesday, teachers at Cardinal schools have the option of participating in weekly yoga sessions.

“It’s been on my heart the last couple of years as I see research on the impacts of stress on teachers,” he said of the initiative. “This particular one is one I’m really proud of, but it’s one component of a bigger thing.”

He’s referring to Project Spark, a program he’s been working on to address four areas of health that can impact his staff: financial health, emotional health, spiritual health and physical health. Yoga can play into several of those areas.

“We hope every year to open up different classes to focus on those different health pieces and reward teachers for participating.

“Everybody may be in a different place,” he said. “We’re working to help teachers find resources based on each teacher’s individual need.”

Pedersen the district is working with several community partners to provide training and support in those areas. One partner is Jami Brechon of Work It Out Fitness, who will be leading the yoga sessions.

“I was so excited,” about this opportunity, Brechon said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for so long.”

Brechon sees this as the beginning of a program. She said if it takes off, they might expand classes to twice per week.

“This is just my little beginning of it. I’m hoping this is just a stepping stone to working with the kids,” she said. “What I’m hoping to do is create something that can be transferable to other schools.”

Starting with the teachers seems natural to Brechon. “We all know teachers and how hard they work,” even outside of school, she said. “If you can make your staff happy, that is the best way to grow your business, and school is a business.”

But as it is, she sees the training as something the teachers can take back to the students in little ways, such as helping them reset their brains when they’re nervous or anxious, such as doing a quick breathing exercise to calm them before taking a test.

“It’s giving them emotional tools in their toolbox that they can take out when they’re angry or excited. They can take it an help the students.”

Pedersen said today’s teachers are faced with additional challenges than simply teaching. “They’re being asked to do things they didn’t go into the field to do,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how much stress comes every day from serving kids in poverty or with other problems in their life. I want to do everything I can to help them improve their stress levels.

“The bottom line is, I’m worried about my staff and I want to do things that are not super expensive and work with partners to provide that,” Pedersen said.

The yoga classes have proven to be a popular option within Pedersen’s Project Spark plan. He said as soon as the classes were introduced, about 25 staff members either signed on or expressed interest.

“It’s a small thing, but the response back to me has gone really well, which tells me this is something we need,” he said.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.


Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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