Educators focus on fitness, childhood obesity

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Sara Van Cleve
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With the ever-growing epidemic of childhood obesity, schools are looking for new ways to get children active and healthy.

On April 25-26, 250 educators from 12 states were at the Arvada Center for the inaugural Excellence in Schools Summit hosted by the Active Schools Association Program, Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie and St. Vrain School District.

“There’s an increase in childhood obesity and a decline in traditional PE and recess in many schools,” said Director of ASAP Nate Whitman. “We want to reverse that trend.”

ASAP hosted an Innovation Competition for schools to see what they were doing to get students active, and more than 500 different teams entered their plans, including Red Hawk Elementary, which was announced as a national winner.

Red Hawk incorporates 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity throughout the day before students’ hardest subjects in addition to recess and PE classes.

Activities include following small workout videos in the classroom and doing the “Red Hawk Walk,” which is walking nine laps around the school to total one mile.

“Kids that are fit move more, do better in school, are more ready to learn, are more awake and alert, have a better attention span and have fewer disciplinary problems,” Whitman said.

In addition to daily physical activity, every Friday is “All School Movement,” where all grades, teachers, staff and even parents come together for physical activity, such as dancing to popular songs.

“It’s probably the best thing ever,” said Kayan Hartrave, a third-grader at Red Hawk. “You get moving and get motivated. It’s very fun and it helps me focus.”

Red Hawk students were at the Summit to demonstrate some of the exercises they do, and they even got attendees in on the fun.

ASAP and its parent nonprofit, ChildObesity180, has partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative to hopefully obtain the goal of having 50,000 schools across the nation in the next five years have some sort of health and wellness program in place outside of PE and recess, Whitman said.

The Summit and Red Hawk demonstration left an influence on many of the educators present, which included teachers and principals from the metro area, across the state and attendees from other states.

“Red Hawk is a dream school with what they’re doing,” said Kay Calhoun, an elementary school PE teacher from Illinois who attended the conference. “The goal is to use fitness programs similar to this and get the message throughout the metro area.”

Each school is different though, Whitman said, and each school will have to figure out what fitness program works best for them.

“The model that works at Red Hawk might not be right for Harlem, but even if it’s just three to five minute increments of exercise, it will make a difference,” Whitman said. “Elementary children need about an hour of physical activity every day. It might be difficult to set aside an hour for it, but you can do smaller increments.”

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