Students more active, healthy following Kaiser Thriving Schools grant
HIGHLANDS RANCH – As work under a one-year grant provided by Kaiser Permanente wraps up, the hope is that the opportunities created, including fitness classes, will spark a change in schools and classrooms around the Douglas County School District.
Studies show that healthy students perform better in school. Through the Kaiser Thriving Schools grant, Douglas County kids and adults alike were encouraged to integrate more physical fitness activities before, during and after school hours.
The Douglas County School District Healthy Schools team worked to create student-led health teams in eight pilot schools, as well as funding fitness classes, classroom physical activity kits and professional development for teachers throughout the District.
“We are just trying to provide and create opportunities for schools to embed physical activity as part of their culture, and bring in opportunities for them to move before, during and after school in effective ways, so they’re not taking away from their learning, they’re just enhancing it,” explained DCSD Healthy Schools Lead Andrea Willis.
“A lot of kids sit for most of the day,” added Laurie LaComb, DCSD’s Thriving Schools Grant Coordinator. “We have a lot of tools to combat that and allow teachers to get kids moving through the day, without disrupting instruction or weave it into their instruction.”
The grant helped to purchase physical activity bags for classrooms, which include activity suggestions, juggling scarfs, beanbags and more. On a daily basis, you can see the students in motion and utilizing these tools in Sara Schumacher’s classroom.
“I decided to incorporate a lot more movement in my classroom, so I could see how that would effect the kids and how it would affect their learning,” Schumacher explained.
Schumacher says the activities, which only last about two to three minutes, three times a day not only get her first-grade students’ muscles working, but also stimulates their brains.
“I saw some great things starting to happen in my classroom. Behavior was getting a lot better, kids were able to move around a lot more and during quiet working times, kids were able to stay focused a little longer, so I started encouraging Fox Creek and other teachers to do it,” Schumacher said.
WATCH: DCSD Healthy Schools Initiative participants talk about impact program has had on students and learning.
“Purposeful movement in the classroom can offer students the opportunity to process, reflect and discuss learning with their peers,” Willis explained “In addition, offering short brain boosters helps students re-engage in learning, refocus attention and increases blood flow to the brain. There is so much research behind movement and learning.”
The team was also able to offer more than 50 different fitness classes, including Zumba, strength straining and yoga, at different schools and sites across the District. They estimate that they served more than 5,000 individuals, including 2,500 students.
Additionally, the team was trained by the Colorado Department of Education to teach eduactors about teaching with the brain in mind. As a result they were able to provide professional development courses to help make the connection for teachers between activity and learning.
“When we come out of working with these staff members, they say ‘that was so valuable. That was one of the best things we heard all year,” LaComb said.
It is clear that the program has made a big impact in the eight DCSD Healthy Schools Initiative pilot schools. Recently the student-led health teams at each school came together at the Highlands Ranch Mansion for Spring Fling, an opportunity to share some of the projects they have implemented. The projects ranged from the creation of running clubs and implementation of “Brain Breaks” to movement competitions and “Wheel or Walk Wednesdays.”
2014-2015 DCSD Healthy Schools Initiative Pilot Schools
Bear Canyon Elementary
Health Coach: Kimmy Romine
Cherry Valley Elementary
Health Coach: Jan Francis
Cimarron Middle School
Health Coach: Beau Davies
Cougar Run Elementary
Health Coach: Amy Moyle
Fox Creek Elementary
Health Coaches: Sara Schumacher & Cindy Townsend
Health Coaches: Sue Antonsen & Kimberly Stephens
Pine Lane Intermediate
Health Coach: Kelly Wilbert
Soaring Hawk Elementary
Health Coach: Tonya Tuley
DCSD’s Healthy Schools team has applied for another Kaiser Thriving Schools grant. In the meantime, it is utilizing some of the remaining funds to offer some fitness classes during the next school year.
The hope is that the work already underway has lit a passion for health and wellness within our schools.
“Grants are never meant to last forever,” Willis explained. “They are meant to get the ball rolling in the right direction to create systems change.”
Willis and her team hope to continue to encourage schools to plant gardens, consider healthy snack policies and create a culture of health and wellness.
To that end, the District has created a Wellness Advisory Council that is working to release a report next year, which will provide a five-year framework for making health and wellness a greater focus in the District.
“We are trying to bring this to the front burner, because health and wellness is really on the back burner in most places,” Willis explained.