While many at Sandia know Kayla Norris (8100) as a financial analyst, a class of students in Oakland know her as “Ms. Kayla,” their afterschool yoga instructor. For ten weeks in the fall of 2017, Kayla taught a yoga and mindfulness class at Roots International Academy, a small middle school in East Oakland.
Kayla went from being a fan of yoga to teaching it after attending a Citizen Schools information session at Sandia’s California Laboratory. Like many, Kayla was nervous about teaching, but she was reassured after learning that Citizen Schools would provide a classroom aide to help with classroom management, as well as any needed material resources. When Citizen Schools asked her what she wanted to teach, Kayla asked herself what has made the biggest impact on her well-being in the last year.
“Yoga has been life-changing for my mind, body, and soul,” Kayla said. “It’s not just the poses. My yoga teachers inspire, motivate, and teach me tools to take off the mat and apply in my everyday life. If I can be that for even one student, then it is all worth it.” After teaching her first session, Kayla quickly learned that, just like in yoga, it is important to be both prepared yet flexible. There was no predicting what mood her class would have when she arrived on campus. When students were not in the mood for a sun salutation, Kayla would impart another yoga principle – perseverance. Whenever students fell while trying to stand on one leg for a tree pose or couldn’t quite do the backbend for a wheel pose, Kayla would be right there to remind them of their progress and gently encourage them to keep practicing.
The dedication of Kayla and her students paid off at the “WOW!” event, where students from all Citizen Schools classes presented what they had learned. Seeing her students talk on their own about the class was rewarding, but the highlight of the day was seeing one of her students receive the Perseverance Award. The student had initially struggled with the yoga poses but worked diligently in and out of class to master them. The day of the WOW! event, he showed off his new moves to any Citizen Schools staff he could find.
“Seeing the confidence on my students’ faces made it all worth it,” said Kayla. “You don’t have to be an expert or experienced teacher to make a difference in the lives of kids. You just have to genuinely care about your students.”