After losing her job as a supply teacher when COVID hit, Morgan D’Aloisio has kept her focus on youth and is teaching the lessons she thinks are most important.
In her opinion, the key for facing any challenge is the view.
“Right now, possibilities and opportunities don’t really seem reachable, especially to children,” she said. “But it all depends on how you look at it. If you have an open mind, you can shift your perspective.”
She created Open Minds (OM) Youth with the goal of helping children do just that.
D'Aloisio, who grew up in St. Catherines and now splits her time between Collingwood and Burlington, has been around children her whole life. She spent several years working as both a babysitter and a nanny before completing the Teacher Education program at Brock University in 2018.
In her work with families, she started to see parents looking for other options and alternative learning programs.
OM was created with the intention to incorporate mindfulness, meditation and movement into children’s lives at an early age, and teach them that there is more to learn beyond the classroom.
“I want kids to be able to open up their minds to what they are talented at, what they are passionate about, what they can offer the world with their skills and talents,” she said.
Growing up, D’Aloisio struggled with school. She failed both the EQAO testing in elementary school and the literacy test in Grade 10, and was considered a student with disabilities throughout university, receiving additional accommodations for all of her exams.
“To me, this was the end of the world,” she said. “I felt embarrassed, stupid and alone. I never thought I would be smart enough for whatever career path I chose.”
Her motivation is to make sure children today never feel that way.
“We have to take in the reality that there are so many different learners, so many people learn in different ways,” said D’Aloisio. “I want to help build a strong mind-body connection at a young age to improve self-esteem and help them re-explore their learning potential.”
In its current format, OM is a five-week after-school program being held at Studio 74, a photography studio and event rental space downtown Collingwood. Children sign up with their “pod” to ensure safety given the current restrictions due to COVID-19. D’Aloisio also takes each child’s temperature before the start of each session, and has implemented additional precautions and sanitary procedures.
The inaugural session started on Sept. 11 and is set to wrap up this Friday.
Each week, D’Aloisio takes the children through a new theme or focus, from diving deep within and discussing feelings and personal values, to going outside — literally — and focusing on environmental impact and social change.
“Movement and mindfulness are the components not really covered in school right now,” said D’Aloisio. “But there are so many benefits to teaching this early on.”
In the two hour sessions, the children do everything from yoga and meditation to arts and crafts, and last week, the children listened to environmental activist Greta Thunberg speak online and then spent time picking up garbage around the community.
The kids also surprised and inspired her by asking to lead a yoga session for each other.
“This is why I am doing it, because there are kids like this who want education, are itching for it. I can feel it,” said D’Aloisio. “They take to it so well, it made me realize what I am doing is all worth it.”
When COVID hit in March, D’Aloisio was forced out of supply teaching in both the Halton and Niagara Catholic District School Boards. So she turned to what she is most passionate about: movement.
D’Aloisio registered for teacher training through Power Yoga Canada and obtained her certification earlier this spring. She started hosting virtual yoga sessions for her friends and family to keep herself — and her loved ones — moving through this difficult time.
She called it “Move With Me” and continued to grow her following. As restrictions eased, she started teaching outdoor sessions at Millenium Park and Sunset Point Park throughout the summer and secured weekly slots at the new Power Yoga Canada studio that recently opened in Collingwood.
She wants to continue hosting online yoga and movement classes and hopes to offer virtual OM programs as well.
“My number one goal is to make a difference in this community,” she said. “That’s my goal. I just want to help the Collingwood community.”
D’Aloisio is looking for parents and families interested in putting together a pod of their own. She said ultimately, the children drive the sessions, and she is excited about how much she has learned from them as well.
For her virtual sessions, she is hoping to create more age-specific offerings.
“I honestly feel my body and every part of me being pulled to help youth right now. I knew it would be a challenge, but I’m so happy how it’s turned out so far. I don’t want to stop,” she said. “I’m going to keep building on this momentum.”
Along with OM and Move With Me, D’Aloisio owns a clothing company called Lay It On Me, which focuses on recycling and resurfacing clothing. After working closely with families through her other programs these past few months, she plans to add a children’s section to Lay It On Me as well.