Illinois native Paige Pannozzo is just as familiar with vinyasa yoga as she is with educational psychology. As a certified yoga instructor, she helps people find their equilibrium through guided breathing techniques and purposeful movement. While these exercises have clear benefits in the studio, they also have powerful effects in school settings, too.

“There’s a big focus on socioemotional resources for children,” says Paige, who is completing her Ph.D. in School Psychology. “But, research shows that taking a break to move and breathe gives you a clearer mind, makes you more creative, and supports studying.”

For Paige, yoga is an entry point, a type of kinetic social justice. By broadening the scope of resources available to students -- and looking beyond just the socioemotional -- educators can foster more inclusive learning spaces. Students, in turn, have more options for achieving mindfulness and a positive self-image.

“I think it’s really important to do it yourself, too,” said Paige, who typically spends 45 minutes every day in the “flow” of vinyasa yoga. “When I’m stressed, I take a 30 minute break to move and breathe. Even if yoga isn’t the main focus of an activity, it’s something I can address with students.”

 “There’s a really cool bridge between psychology and education. With a doctorate I can help kids tap into their mental health, while also working with policymakers and school districts for systemic change.”


Paige Pannozzo

Redefining the type of work a school psychologist can do is one of the ways Paige advocates for students and their families. The overlap between yoga, inner tranquility, discipline, and mental health offers the ideal platform for engaging with students -- of all ages -- in conversations about their wellbeing. Building this type of environment in schools can eliminate bias and stereotypes about mental health, Paige said.

“People often perceive talking about mental health as a weakness,” she said. “But without talking about it, you don’t create any awareness. I think this really influenced me to be an advocate for mental health.”

 “I define social justice as equal opportunity for every student, and making sure they’re in a healthy environment. It’s important to recognize those students who are vulnerable, and make sure they are being heard.”


Paige Pannozzo

That commitment to advocating for real change revolving around mental health is what motivated Paige to pursue a Ph.D. Earning a doctorate offered her the most flexibility for supporting students, she said, because it enables her to gain expertise in psychology while also acquiring the credentials to work directly with policymakers and school boards to create systemic change. 

The College of Education at UMass Amherst offered her the type of support she was looking for in a program.

“It’s very collaborative,” Paige said, noting that the faculty support at UMass was a major influence on her decision. The cohort model factored in heavily, too, she said, because students can rely on their colleagues but also look to other cohorts to answer questions about classes, forming a committee, and completing a dissertation.

“I chose UMass for many reasons,” Paige said. “In my classes, there are so many people coming from different backgrounds, with different perspectives, that it’s very educational. It helps me as a future school psychologist.”