Manatee County, Fla. (WFLA) – A high school biology teacher in Manatee County hopes to win $10,000 from an online yoga competition to use in her classroom for the benefit of her students.
Kayla McCarthy teaches Honors and Advanced Placement Biology at Parrish Community High School.
In addition to teaching higher-level science, she practices and teaches yoga, something she has been doing since college.
“So yoga became a way for me to manage stress. It’s not something I’m really familiar with. I’ve never been a very physical person. Like, I’m not good at exercise,” McCarthy explained.
McCarthy didn’t initially get hooked on yoga. She said she didn’t try it again until about six or seven years ago, and said it’s been changing her life since then, helping her breathe and learning how to handle situations differently.
“It really took me from being a passive person to being a proactive person, where I could sit and think about who I wanted to be rather than just react to situations,” she said.
She said it’s something she thinks schools need more and she’s trying to share with as many kids as possible. McCarthy teaches free yoga classes on campus every Tuesday, and the studio she teaches offers free classes every Friday.
“So if I can share what works for me, maybe we can have this generation of healthy, socially competent, stress-manageable people,” she said.
This year, McCarthy said she herself spent about $5,000 to go to her classroom because things like pencils, paper and pens were not provided to teachers or students. She said students sometimes come to class unprepared.
“Teachers will never let their lack of supplies affect their learning. So any teacher anywhere is going to have a closet full of things, which of course add up,” McCarthy said.
It’s especially difficult in science classes. She calls it a “sustained investment” in rising prices.
“It’s again because, there’s a lot of consumable material that’s not provided because, you know, if you’re doing plain old textbooks every day, of course, those textbooks are provided to you,” McCarthy said.
While she admits that incorporating different materials into her classes is technically optional, for her, that’s not the case.
“It’s a fundamental part of science education. So all these materials. Whether it’s plates, cups, gloves, vinegar, eggs, baking soda, whatever it is, it’s the teacher’s business. So sometimes there’s a ‘I want to do this experiment’ room? struggle between. “Can I afford this lab?” “she says.
McCarthy said a lab she recently taught cost herself about $60. She completes labs at least once a month between AP and honors classes, and says it’s more than $100 a month for materials alone.
She also helps less fortunate students by spending money on snacks.
“Sure, they have a free lunch, but it’s small, and they’re hungry. I can’t focus when I’m hungry, so we’re in my room, and we have this reward system that they can get through positive behavior , turn in jobs, win games to earn ‘bio money’ that they can spend on snacks, not real money, of course, real money spent on me,” she said.
McCarthy also has a snack cabinet dedicated to students who don’t normally seek help. There, she prepared healthier and more expensive snacks for students who weren’t getting healthier options elsewhere.
She got to know about the Yoga Warriors competition via Instagram, where she shares tips on practicing more mindful aspects of yoga rather than difficult poses.
McCarthy submitted an application to the competition and received a response two weeks later. Since then, she has reached the quarterfinals.
The grand prize of the contest is $10,000. McCarthy hopes to receive the award to fund her classroom for years to come. In addition to basic supplies and snacks, she said, she will use the money to continue creating a comfortable, safe classroom for her students.
“I have comfortable seats. We have sofas here. It’s really not normal for a science lab, but it’s very important to me that they have a place to go when they’re doing their work comfortably, ” McCarthy said. “I have kids who get a pass when they’re not feeling well, and they come in and sit for 10 to 15 minutes. They all call it a ‘zen room,’ a cold room.”
Overall, winning the race will help validate everything she’s been working on, McCarthy said.
“Sometimes impostor syndrome is hard and it’s just like, ‘Am I good enough? Who am I to tell you how to make your life better when I’m still struggling? I talk to my kids all the time about how to manage it. Your emotions and healthy coping skills and how to stay positive, I’ve been battling anxiety, depression, mental health, it’s an ongoing struggle,” she said.
People in the community can vote for McCarthy once a day for free through their Facebook account. Monetary donations are also accepted and counted as votes, and 25% of all vote proceeds will go to Veterans Yoga Charities.
“Winning it was just a validation to show me, ‘You know what, I’m doing what I’m here to do. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m here, and I’m making a difference.'” McCarthy said . “Because that’s what any teacher really wants. Yoga teachers, high school teachers, that’s what teachers want. We’re involved because we love working with people.”