Tag Archives: public school

Little Kid Bodies Must Play if You Want the Test Scores You’re After

kids playing

It’s a fact some schools have been cutting physical education classes and other activities like recess and team sports in order to save money and allow more classroom time. However, removing physical activity from school kids’ days may actually have a detrimental effect on their scholastic abilities.

Carolyn Wassell, M.Ed. is the principal of the West Charleston Enrichment Academy (WCEA) where staying active is seen as an integral part of the school day. The long-time teacher and administrator feels physical activity has an incredibly positive impact on her students’ academic performance.

“Children have many academic periods at school where they must be cognitively focused,” she told DietsInReview. “Physical activity provides a break from concentrated instruction. Instead of going from one mental task to another, physical activity serves to relieve stress and actually lessen distractions. This allows students to return to academic tasks with increased focus and with the ability to do better on their assignments.”


Gardening Provides a Bounty of Benefits to Prisons and Public Schools

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade. 
Rudyard Kipling 

The act of planting a garden – working the soil, tending to the plants and reaping the bounty is a time-honored tradition that has slowly morphed from necessity to hobby. Over the last 100 years, America’s industrialization and urban expansion have eliminated the need for gardens in most households. Unfortunately, some apartment dwellers are packed so close together that growing basil in a pot on the windowsill is the closest they’ll get to a harvest.

Today we’re highlighting two programs that teach gardening skills in the United States. Though the “participants” are very different, they all receive benefits that go far beyond the eventual food a garden yields.


Prison gardens

Prison Garden

Last week, the National Public Radio (npr) website ran a story about several minimum security prisons that have developed their own vegetable gardens thanks in part to the Insight Garden Program. Inmates who qualify for the program are allowed to work outside where they tend to a small area of raised beds that grow everything from tomatoes to lettuce. Beth Waitkus, Director of the Insight Garden Program said she created this endeavour after the tragedies of 9/11 to, “restore her faith in humanity.”


Stability Balls in the Classroom Cut the Wiggles and Increase Learning

Recently I attended a group meeting with my daughter’s third grade teacher. All the parents were encouraged to sit in our child’s designated spot. As my adult-sized body balanced precariously on the uncomfortable wooden chair beneath me, I wondered how in the world little bodies – with much less backside cushion – could stand to spend eight hours sitting on what is essentially a small plank with legs. Evidently, teachers have also struggled with this ergonomic conundrum over the years and now, many schools are adopting a new seating strategy – stability balls.

stability ball classroom

Normally used in the gym for exercises that improve core strength and posture, a new line of stability balls are now being marketed for use in the office and classroom. Available in friendly primary colors, the balls are equipped with legs to discourage kids from rolling them around the room or having ball races. Because, yeah, they’re way ahead of you on that one, you little shenaniganizers. The idea behind the use of stability balls in the classroom is based around the theory that when the body is engaged, the mind is, too.

The balls aren’t cheap, particularly when you’re outfitting an entire classroom, but teachers who have adopted the new seating arrangement say they’re pleased with the outcome. Though a few teachers had trouble with students throwing the balls or other mistreatment, most said they noticed an immediate improvement in their students’ attention spans. A few educators noticed they had trouble with kids bouncing on them for the first few days, but that quickly diminished with redirection. One form of redirection included going back to the wooden plank chair.


Students Succeeding with Yoga Curriculum in the Classroom

As school budgets continue to shrink, one area we see cut time and time again is physical education. Schools eliminate this vitally important part of a student’s schedule in exchange for more classroom time to prep for tests, reduce the burden of a full-time teacher salary, and maintenance costs for gym and equipment. It’s to the detriment of our students that they lose PE programs. In some schools they’re actually finding new ways to infuse fitness back in to the learning environment, though.

Yoga has long been celebrated for its extensive list of benefits, which include focus, energy, and overall fitness for even the youngest of practitioners. While not as common as reading or math, yoga is making an appearance in more and more schools, and it’s proving as worthwhile to students as anything they’re learning in a book.

In 2001, The Accelerated School in Los Angeles introduced a pilot program of YogaEd. Lead by Tara Guber, an expert practitioner and teacher with more than 25 years experience, the students followed a secular yoga practice that taught relaxation, stress, self-esteem, as well as posture and body awareness. Two years later, the results of the program were analyzed in a study that deemed the yoga curriculum not only worthwhile for that school, but worthy of introduction in more schools. Today, they tell us they have 900 instructors in the 35 states and Canada.

Victor High School of Victor, New York is one school that has added yoga to its physical education curriculum. For the past seven years yoga has been on the elective schedule for students and it’s always one of the first classes to fill up, according to Shelly Collins, PE Department Chair and High School Physical Educator at Victor High. She told us the course was initially only open to juniors and seniors for the first five years, but it was so well received that they are now in their second year of offering the yoga class to freshmen and sophomores, too.

“We have a strong passion to introduce and teach our students activities that they can use for their lifetime,” said Collins. The staff practiced that passion seven years ago when the school’s director of physical education, Ronald Whitcomb, challenged them to find a fitness class that was popular in the community and bring it back to their students. After meeting with local yoga studio owners, the curriculum was set and the course added.

The Victor High students attend a one-hour beginner level class each week, and many have grown in their aptitude and enjoyment of the practice enough to pursue community yoga classes outside of school. “They are confident that they will be able to understand and participate,” said Collins.

Proven benefits of yoga in schools include improved self-esteem for students, better overall physical health, better grades, lower stress, and improved problem solving capabilities. What parent wouldn’t want that for their child? What teacher wouldn’t also benefit from this in each of her students?

“Yoga is a lifetime activity that our students find enjoyable and challenging,” said Collins. “Many students comment that they are more relaxed and less stressed after having finished one of our yoga classes. The health benefits are something that the students can feel right away, and in this day and age of ‘instant gratification,’ it has immediate results with our students.”

Unlike a math teacher who can’t so easily transition to teach an English class, yoga can be taught by anyone on staff with the certification. Hundreds of teachers have gained such certifications through Lisa Flynn’s Yoga 4 Classrooms, a program piloted at an elementary school in Maine. After positive feedback and great results, thousands of teachers were inspired to add the practice to their classrooms.

It’s important to note the use of “secular” yoga mentioned in the YogaEd program, as there are continually differing opinions on the religious implications of the practice. “We explain that yoga is not religion, and appeal to school administrators that our curriculum is modeled the same as English or math with lesson plans that meet national PE standards,” Ellen Vittoria of YogaEd told us. In some schools, the word yoga isn’t even used, nor is meditation, and it’s referred to as stretch class or something else generic. Schools avoid anything that may have a religious undertone to prevent backlash from parents. Vittoria explained that all of their course materials use English translations with no mention of Sanskrit or Hindu. Whether yoga is spiritual, religious, or purely physical, the debate exists and should be treaded lightly.

As far as the costs, they can actually be fairly minimal to the school or district. At Victor High, they made an initial investment of mats and blocks and replace as needed. It’s more affordable to have a current staff member, ideally someone from the physical education department, trained and certified than it would be to hire a full-time dedicated yoga instructor. It’s also possible that community members would lead the yoga courses for a free or discounted rate as a way of giving back.

The benefits exist for the students, teachers, and schools when any kind of physical fitness is included in the curriculum. But yoga goes beyond the lessons of sportsmanship and teamwork, it teaches discipline, commitment, and the ability to listen to oneself. “I feel like students get so stressed out these days over good grades, making teams, getting into the right college—it’s high competition. Yoga could be a great outlet for them to feel calm and teach each moment as it comes,” said Kathryn Budig, a renowned yoga expert who is releasing The Big Book of Yoga this fall with Rodale.

Also Read:

Back to School Yoga Relieves the Jitters

5 Ways Teachers Can Improve the Health of Their Classrooms

Sarah Wu’s “Fed Up With Lunch” Outs the Nutritionally-Void School Lunch Program

Sleep Over Homework for Better Health and Academic Performance

Not only does too much homework negatively affect students’ test scores, but new research suggests that even an hour or two of homework each night gives no measurable advantages to students before they enter grades 10 through 12. Sydney University’s Richard Walker headed up the study outlined in his new book “Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies.”

According to the study, students in elementary school get limited benefits from homework, while middle schoolers get slightly more. It’s not until high school that academic performance becomes enhanced with homework. Even then, too much homework can lead to poor mental and physical health. A lack of sleep is one cause of this, with one study linking sleep deficiencies in teens to obesity. A lack of sleep can also lead to diabetes, another study found. (more…)

Why Schools are Banning Bake Sales and Birthday Cakes

Bake sales used to be the highlight of any school function, with mountains of cupcakes and muffins, and bundt cakes galore, tempting the taste buds of kindergartners and teachers alike. But that may be changing soon, as schools are beginning to make bake sale restrictions in light of America’s ever-expanding waistline.

The public school system in Maryland’s Montgomery County, for instance, is no longer allowing its districts to hold bake sales, even if the fundraisers are for a good cause. This is because selling sweets has been outlawed during the school day, and the new ban is taken rather seriously, according to Marla Caplon of Montgomery County’s food and nutrition services, who says officials ‘make the rounds’ daily to ensure no one’s breaking the rules.

“If a bake sale is going on, it’s reported to administration and it’s taken care of,” she says. “You can’t sell Girl Scout cookies, candy, cakes, any of that stuff.” (more…)

Fitness for Kids Launches in U.S. with Laila Ali and NFL Star Curtis Conway

Six-time “Mr. World Fitness,” Franco Carlotto is bringing his proven children’s fitness program, Fitness for Kids, to the United States. This program for elementary school aged children helps teach them healthy habits to combat the problem of childhood obesity. Fitness for Kids has been a success in Switzerland over the last five years and Carlotto is hoping for the same success here in the states.

The Kick-Off Event for Fitness for Kids took place at Tarzana Elementary in Los Angeles with boxing star Laila Ali and NFL player Curtis Conway acting as Ambassadors. Overall there are over 80 Ambassadors internationally. The Ambassadors range from Olympic medalists, actors, politicians and American sports icons.

The Fitness for Kids initiative aims to help American kids embrace respectful life attitudes, track daily activity and incorporate healthy nutrition into their lives. This program is a great way for kids and parents to work together towards the goal of getting kids to live healthier lives at a younger age.


Girls Get Higher Test Scores When They Walk to School

It appears that girls who get a ride to school each morning don’t perform as well on tests as their classmates who walk to school. The benefits of exercise are numerous and we already know that it has the ability to improve brain-function and memory. Increased blood-flow to the brain and the extra time to reflect clearly offers an advantage to girls who walk to school, regardless of how much exercise they get during the rest of their day. What’s not so clear is that the same cannot be said for boys. There’s no noticeable difference among boys who walk to school versus those who drive. We’re obviously working with some unseen factors that need to be explored more in-depth.

It’s possible that boys are more active throughout their daily routines so an extra fifteen minutes in the morning doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s also possible that differences among brain structure and hormone development influence the immediate effects of exercise. Regardless of the fuzzy details, it can be agreed that all children benefit from an active lifestyle. Only half of US children partake in one hour of moderate exercise each day. What’s worse is that even fewer teens achieve the recommended amount of daily exercise.


P.E. Class Becoming Optional in Most States

With childhood obesity numbers on the rise, you might think that schools are doing everything they can to help their students meet their daily exercise needs. Not so in 32 states. According to National Association for Sport and Physical Education spokeswoman Paula Kun, the numbers of states who allow students an exemption from P.E. class has been on the rise since 2006.

Students who are enrolled in marching band, cheerleading, and interscholastic sports are often allowed to use an exemption to avoid P.E. class. There are also exemptions allowed for disability or religious reasons.

“Unfortunately, so many schools are having more and more waivers — particularly at the high school level,” Kun says. “The great majority of high school students are required to take physical education only one year out of the four. They get out for religious reasons, for ROTC, for marching band. There’s a whole slew of waiver possibilities.”


D.C. Gym Class Gets an Overhaul

Gym Class ParachuteStudents no longer need fret over being the last one chosen for team games in gym class. In D.C. area public schools, physical education is shifting its focus to individual fitness and personal health and away from team games. “The trend is to move away from competitiveness,” explains P.E. teacher Donald Hawkins.

Browne Education Campus has adopted the SPARK program, which stands for Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids. The program is specifically designed to fight childhood obesity. The new curriculum features age-appropriate fitness activities that keep kids active for the full class period. Not only are the activities designed to get kids moving more than traditional gym class, they also incorporate lessons about health and the body. (more…)