“Dear Trusted Adult ...”

How a Kripalu Yoga teacher—and Kripalu donors—transformed the culture in one Ohio middle school.

Leila Kubesch laughed when she read the salutation: "Dear Trusted Adult." She’d assigned her eighth-grade Spanish students to write a letter to their parents. When one kid asked if he could write to someone else, Leila gave in: “Any trusted adult,” she said.

Then she read the letters, and she wept.

Many of her students had been orphaned by the opioid epidemic. Norwood, Ohio, once a thriving enclave of Cincinnati powered by a General Motors plant, had succumbed in the wake of the plant’s closure.

Leila, a seasoned child advocate who was recently named the 2019 winner of the National Education Association's Human and Civil Rights Award, recognized the trauma in her kids’ silence and solitude. She started looking for therapeutic remedies she could apply. And she found Kripalu Yoga.

Kripalu donors, acting through the Rachel Greene Memorial Fund, made it possible for Leila to sign up for 200-hour yoga teacher training. But that was only the first hurdle.

Leila had taught Pilates at the YMCA for years. She’d navigated a move to Ohio from her native Tunisia, where she had grown up in poverty. She’s multilingual (she speaks an African dialect, French, and Spanish), and her activism had changed Ohio’s laws around foster care: Through her efforts working with politicians and writing for national publications, Ohio House Bill 50 was signed into law, giving foster children the opportunity to have a home until the age of 21.

How tough could yoga teacher training be?

A week into training, Leila’s teachers and the dean told her they were concerned about her progress. So was she. She was about to give up—but when she opened the trunk of her car to load her bags for the drive back to Ohio, she saw the box of all the research she’d compiled on trauma therapy. She carried her bags back up to her room. On graduation day, the teachers told her how impressed they were by how far she had come.

In September, the administrator at her school told Leila and her kids that they were free to spend their weekends turning an unused classroom into a yoga studio. A few months later, a seventh-grade girl ran up to Leila after school one day and cried out, “I’m happy and I can’t explain it!” An eighth-grade girl told her peers that she used to want to beat somebody up at lunch, but after yoga she felt at peace. “Señora Kubesch,” a boy from Honduras confided, “my heart feels not compressed. I don’t cry now.”

Empowered, Leila’s students bloomed. They began speaking with each other in Spanish, without their earlier reluctance and self-consciousness. The kids asked if they could use the community TV studio in the school to start a talk show, and professionals started driving in from all over the state to sit for interviews. Leila’s ESL students started a sister show, called “Voices Without Borders.”

Leila returned to Kripalu in the summer of 2018, again supported by Kripalu donors through the Rachel Greene Memorial Fund. She’s now pursuing her 300-hour certification in Integrative Yoga Therapy. Gifts to Kripalu's Teaching for Diversity program helped furnish her school’s yoga room with additional mats, along with straps, blocks and blankets, enough to support 50 budding yogis at once. Every student in the school practices regularly, and Leila is launching a 10-week program in the evenings so that the kids’ “trusted adults” can learn yoga. A Chicago tech company is building a website to host the talk show archives. The rising eighth graders, who used to bully seventh graders as a rite of passage, have started a Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring program. And the National Education Association cited Leila's initiative to bring Kripalu Yoga into the classroom as one of her many significant achievements.

To our knowledge, no Kripalu faculty, staff, or donor has ever set foot in the Norwood Middle School. But the Kripalu community lives in Norwood, as surely as it lives in the Berkshires.

Leila was looking at a locked door. Kripalu donors gave her a key.

Here’s how your donations to Kripalu help create stories like Leila’s:

  1. By sustaining Kripalu’s operations, allowing Leila to find the School of Yoga
  2. By building the Kripalu Scholarships fund and Rachel Greene Memorial Fund
  3. By supporting the outstanding faculty for our trainings
  4. By helping multipliers like Leila grow yoga programs in their communities with funding from the Teaching for Diversity program.

Give to Kripalu today.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please email editor@kripalu.org.