Manatee Co. biology teacher enters yoga contest to win $10,000 for classroom
MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Manatee County high school biology teacher is hoping to win $10,000 through an online yoga contest to use in her classroom to benefit her students.
Kayla McCarthy teaches honors and advanced placement biology at Parrish Community High School.
In addition to teaching higher level science, she also practices and teaches yoga, which she has been doing since college.
“So yoga has become a way for me to manage my stress. It wasn’t something I really knew. I’ve never been a very physical person. Like, I’m not good at sports,” McCarthy explained.
McCarthy was not initially addicted to yoga. She said it was only about six or seven years ago that she tried again and it has changed her life ever since, helping her breathe and learning to approach situations differently.
“It really took me from being a reactive person to a proactive person, where I can sit down and think about who I want to be instead of just reacting to a situation,” she said.
She said this is something she feels is needed more in schools and she tries to share it with as many children as possible. McCarthy teaches a free on-campus yoga class every Tuesday, and the yoga studio where she teaches offers free classes every Friday.
“So if I can share what has worked for me, maybe we can have this generation of healthy, socially capable, stress-handling individuals,” she said.
This year, McCarthy said she spent about $5,000 of her own money to go to her class because items like pencils, paper and pens aren’t provided to teachers or students. She said students sometimes come to class unprepared.
“Teachers will never let their lack of supplies interfere with their learning. So any teacher, anywhere, will have a closet full of stuff and of course those things add up,” McCarthy said.
This is especially difficult in a science class. She calls it “constant investment” with prices rising.
“Just because again there’s so much consumable material that’s not provided because, you know, if you’re just doing old crafts every day, of course those manuals are provided to you” , McCarthy said.
While she acknowledges that incorporating different materials into her classes is technically optional, for her it simply isn’t.
“It’s a fundamental part of science education. So all these materials. Whether it’s plates, cups, gloves, vinegar, eggs, baking soda, whatever, it’s all up to the teacher. So it sometimes becomes a struggle between, ‘do I want to do this lab?’ and ‘can I afford this lab?’ “, did she say.
McCarthy said a recent lab she taught cost about $60 of her own money. She did at least one lab a month between AP and Honors classes and said it initially cost more than $100 a month in materials alone.
She also helps less fortunate students by spending money to stock up on snacks.
“Yes, they get a free lunch, but it’s small and they’re hungry. I can’t concentrate when I’m hungry, so we have in my room, we have this reward system where they earn “bio dollars” for positive behaviors, for turning in work, for winning games and they can spend their ‘bio dollars’ on snacks, which of course isn’t really money, so the real money spent is on me,” she said.
McCarthy also has a snack cabinet specifically for students who don’t usually ask for help. There, she keeps healthier, more expensive snacks for students who don’t get healthier foods elsewhere.
She found out about the Yoga Warrior contest via Instagram, where she shares advice on the most mindful aspect of yoga practice, rather than tips for difficult poses.
McCarthy submitted an entry to the contest and had a response two weeks later. She has since qualified for the quarter-finals.
The grand prize of the competition is $10,000. McCarthy is after the award to help fund her class for the next few years. She said that in addition to basic supplies and snacks, she would use the money to continue creating a comfortable and safe classroom for her students.
“I have comfortable seats. We have canapes here. Which is really abnormal for a science lab, but it’s so important to me that they have somewhere to go when they finish their work when they’re comfortable,” McCarthy said. “I have kids who get passes when they’re not feeling well and come in and sit for 10-15 minutes. They all call it “the Zen classroom”, the relaxation room. »
Overall, winning the contest would help validate everything she works for, McCarthy said.
“It’s so hard sometimes with impostor syndrome and thinking, ‘am I good enough for this? Who am I to tell you how to improve your life when I’m still struggling?’ I talk to kids all the time about managing your emotions and healthy coping skills and how to maintain a positive attitude and I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, mental health and that’s an ongoing fight,” she said.
Community members can vote for McCarthy for free, once a day, with a Facebook account. Monetary donations are also accepted and count as votes and 25% of proceeds from all votes will benefit a Yoga for Veterans charity.
“Winning would kind of just be this validation that shows 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.'” A said McCarthy. “Because that’s really what every teacher wants. Yoga teacher, high school teacher, that’s all teachers want. We are there because we love working with people.