You can see it happening
On a recent Friday at Mingo's Lenore K-8, about 60 kids were rocking out on the stage with several teachers, no partners, boom box blasting, constant motion, shifting easily from the Macarena to The Twist to the Wobble. Every five minutes or so, the music segued. So did the kids.
"They love it, dancing through the decades," said principal Sabrina Runyon. "We teach them the moves, and they go at it!" In the gym, other students shot hoops and ran relays. One group was training for a 5K.
It was Fun Friday, last period every week, Reward Friday for students who make it through the week with less than three violations in any class. Instead of candy or objects as rewards for responsible behavior, they choose activities like free time in the gym, shooting hoops or running relays with their friends, or dancing with a teacher who teaches them cool dance moves.
"This works better than any reward system we've ever had," principal Runyon said. "We make it so much fun they don't want to miss it."
The reward system is part of the schoolwide wellness program. "We're weaving physical activity through the whole week now," she said. "We've been doing it more than a year now, and we see the benefits. When kids stir their brain cells by moving, they focus better and perform better.
"Our discipline problems are also way down since we started this." Last year, 47 violations were reported in January. This January, only two violations were reported. "We feel the extra movement lets them release energy they would have spent acting out," she said.
She shifted the schedule to get the kids moving more:
* Lenore now serves universal free breakfast and cooks from scratch. For 18 minutes of the 47-minute lunch period, all students go outside or to the gym in bad weather. "If we can pull that off with 600 students, any school can," Runyon said. "It's a matter of making a schedule and sticking to it, like a well-oiled machine."
* Kindergarten through 4th grade get another recess during the day, so younger kids get two activity breaks.
* Teachers cannot take away recess as punishment. "Lots of times, a misbehaving kid just needs to get up and run around." Instead, they get a violation, the loss of a class trip or party, or if necessary, a visit to the office.
* Runyon often plays a "Jammin' Minute" over the PA system first thing. Sleepy kids stand beside their desks and stretch and move. "Teachers do that kind of thing all day too."
* Music classes involve movement: modified yoga, physical learning activities to music.
When the wellness coordinators from the various schools met in January, Superintendent Keathley came too. "I'm here because I want you to know how important I think your wellness job is," he told them.
Amy File, state program director for the Alliance for a Healthy Generation, listened as each school described their activities. Some listed teacher wellness activities too. "We've got 17 teachers signed up to run the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon," said Lenore's Pam Chapman. "The kids are impressed."
"I see a big, positive difference in just in a year," File told the coaches. "When we first started, you were organizing one-day events, like the Cupid Shuffle. This year, I'm hearing about things that go on week after week. I'm hearing about teachers as role models."
File gave all the coaches a new DVD of quick classroom exercises. "The Alliance is always giving us useful stuff, and it costs us nothing," said Kay Maynard, Mingo wellness coordinator.
Wellness coaches, existing staffers, get paid an extra $250 a year from excess levy funds. "Obviously, we don't do it for the money," Chapman said. "I'm a believer."
"We get a whole lot of value for that little bit of money," Keathley said. "Our excess levy lets us do the after-school activities and have the wellness coaches," he said. "We're very thankful for that, because it's working."
Reach Kate Long at 304-348-1798 or katel...@wvgazette.com.
"The Shape We're In" has been supported by a Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism fellowship, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.