Summer Bridge Program Celebrates Mindfulness Day with “Goat Yoga”

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Incoming ninth-grade students in the inaugural Bellmore-Merrick Summer Bridge Program enjoyed Mindfulness Day, a day devoted to helping students build self-advocacy skills, cope with stress and tension, improve social relationships with peers and adults, and set goals for high school.  The district’s newly adopted Bridge Program and promotion policy is designed to help students strengthen necessary academic and organizational skills before moving on to high school.  “The focus is to help reengage students while preparing them for what they will encounter academically as they start the ninth grade,” said Cheryl Fontana, district director of fine & performing arts and the Bridge Program coordinator.

A highlight of the day featured a unique yoga practice led by John F. Kennedy High School teacher Dawn Sullivan featuring special guests from Long Island-based Steppin’ Out Ponies and Petting Zoo, a rescue organization run by Bellmore-Merrick alumna Karen Bayha. As students entered an enclosed area at Grand Avenue Middle School to set up sun salutations on their beach towels, they were joined by a dozen of Bayha’s rescue goats, some as young as just a few weeks old. 

“Goat Yoga,” which is growing in popularity across the nation, was recently featured  in Sunday’s Newsday. Bayha’s rescue is involved with Goat Yoga events offered weekly by the Smithtown Historical Society. 

Bayha, who graduated from Mepham High School, was interested in partnering with the Bridge Program to “give back to the community.” As Sullivan led students through the meditative poses typical in a Vinyasa-style yoga class, the goats moved about the crowd and interacted with the participants. While some were more interested in grazing on nearby ivy, others, especially the babies, enjoyed interrupting the practice for playtime. 

“Goats are inherently gentle, social animals,” said Bridge Program Director & teacher, Mary Donnelly. “While yoga teaches us how to be calm and present ‘in the moment,’ the simple presence of the goats reminds us that we sometimes need to relinquish control, smile, and embrace the chaos.”

Once the yoga practice ended, students had the opportunity to play with the goats and even take a few ‘selfies’ before returning to class.