Active Elementary School Students Have Healthy Weight, Do Better in School: Four Regional Elementary Schools Participate in Active Schools Minnesota Evaluation
Minnesota elementary school students who met national recommendations for aerobic fitness are more likely to have a healthy weight and have better academic outcomes than students who didn’t meet those recommendations.
That’s according to a study of 14 elementary schools in central and northern Minnesota who are involved with the Active Schools Minnesota initiative, which assists students in reaching the national physical activity guideline of at least 60 minutes of movement every day. (Read a copy of the study’s report here: health.state.mn.us/activeschoolsmn). Indus Elementary, Keewatin Elementary, Moose Lake Elementary, and Winterquist Elementary all participated in the evaluation and are featured in the report.
Between 2014 and 2016, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) – through its Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) – worked with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) on implementing and evaluating the initiative. Each school in the pilot study committed to implementing at least two strategies that increased students’ time in physical activity during and outside the school day, such as quality physical education and active recess.
At Indus Elementary, in Koochiching County, classroom teachers were trained in active classroom research and provided resources that could easily be utilized in their rooms. GoNoodle and brain breaks were most popular. Classroom teachers provided students with the rationale of the importance of physical activity during class time and often engaged them to select activities and serve as leaders. Classroom teachers also shared physical activity resources with each other. “Student needs are being met through use of exercise balls and standing up activities. They have more focus for longer periods of time when activity is built in,” says Sara Wendt, sixth grade teacher.
At Keewatin Elementary, students often had the opportunity to select and lead activities. Students reported they liked the movement opportunities and often commented on how much better they felt afterward.
“Students look forward to brain breaks. They can take an independent brain break while still in a chair, and they understand how not to be distractive. As a class they can choose what activity they want to do and they enjoy it” –Susan Johnson, fifth grade teacher
An open gym opportunity was created twice a week for 30 minutes during the entire school year. The program was supervised by the physical education teacher. Students selected activities they wanted to do. The activities were age-appropriate and inclusive of all students. Activity options ranged from team games such as basketball or kickball, to small group or individual activities such as jump rope or hacky sack.
“Some students participating in our before school open gym seemed to have fewer discipline problems during the school day,” said Dan Owens, elementary physical education teacher
For Moose Lake, as a result of participation in the Active Schools Minnesota pilot study, physical activity became more a norm for the culture of the school. Classroom teachers gained a better understanding of the impact of physical activity on educational performance and became more committed to consistent daily physical activity opportunities throughout the day. By increasing time for physical education, the curriculum was enhanced and more physical activity class time was provided for students. “Participation in this study was successful because it changed the mindset of teachers to incorporate physical activity into the school day,” said Ann Haugen, physical education teacher.
For Winterquist Elementary as a result of being part of the Active Schools pilot study, the culture of the school shifted toward a foundation of movement for students both during and outside the school day. The district wellness policy now spells out that all students will have opportunities, support and encouragement to be physically active on a regular basis. The policy states that physical education is an integral component of the overall education of a child in preparation for health and wellness and should not be substituted for other physical activities. The policy also says that classroom teachers will provide short physical activity breaks between lessons or classes, as appropriate. “Since implementing Active Schools Minnesota, teachers have become more aware of the importance of being active during the school day,” said Cyndee Johnson, physical education teacher.
Sixth grade teacher, Andy Nielsen, wraps it up well, “More smiles. Fewer yawns. More focused.”
To learn more about the Active Schools Minnesota initiative, visit health.state.mn.us/activeschoolsmn.