- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Feet flew and heart rates soared Friday at Coralville Central Elementary.

Students got a workout during a flurry of physical activity known as Fitness Friday, a physical education period dedicated to fast-paced exercise.

McKenna Proud, a sixth-grader, said Fitness Friday and the school’s new weight bars help her get fit for volleyball and softball - sports she plays after school.

She said a new practice of stretching about every 15 minutes during other classes is also helping her academically.

“It’s helping me focus better,” McKenna told the Iowa City Press-Citizen (https://icp-c.com/1tg6Tz2).



The weight bars and stretching are part of a three-year U.S. Department of Education Physical Education Program, or PEP, that four schools in the Iowa City Community School District are using.

The district receives $250,000 annually through the program, which began last year.

Grant Wood, Kirkwood and Twain elementaries also participate in PEP, which aims to increase physical activity and improve health education and overall academic achievement.

Diane Delozier Lahr, the district’s PEP coordinator, said officials chose the schools based in part on students’ low fitness test scores.

She said staff are using grant funds to add programming, professional development opportunities, equipment and extra staff for running new activities at before- and after-school programs.

Delozier Lahr said the schools also created committees of staff and parents to focus on health and fitness issues.

“The bottom line is, how can we get our kids healthier?” she said.

At Kirkwood on Friday, Renee Person’s first-grade class used hopscotch, jumping jacks and arm gestures associated with phonetic sounds to work on spelling. Kids hopped on new foam squares labeled with letters to sound out words like “hole” and “home.”

Person said she learned about these activities, called action-based learning techniques, during professional development funded through PEP grant dollars.

This month she also started a research project for her graduate studies at Graceland University focused on how action-based learning is affecting her students’ abilities with spelling and word acquisition.

Person said after she started using the action-based learning techniques, she saw a slight improvement in students’ spelling test scores and noticed increased participation in learning activities.

“Naturally, kids are learning with their bodies,” she said.

The district also tracks physical health results from PEP using annual fitness tests that show whether students are “in the healthy zone” based on their proficiency in five areas: abdominal exercises, aerobics, sit-and-reach, modified pull-ups and body composition.

Data shows a slight increase of proficient test scores from the first year of PEP to the second year.

The number of proficient tests in all five areas at all four schools combined increased by 2 percentage points from 2013 to 2014, from about 62 percent proficient to 64 percent.

Coralville Central, Twain and Wood saw improvement from 2013 to 2014, while Kirkwood saw a slight decrease of proficient tests. Coralville Central saw the biggest jump in proficient tests, an increase of about 6 percentage points.

Karen Callaway, a P.E. teacher at Coralville Central, said her students excel at aerobics, but that there’s room for improvement when it comes to upper body strength. She said PEP grant dollars helped her improve Fitness Fridays by bringing in a wealth of new equipment, including medicine balls and exercise mats with helpful diagrams.

Jan Grenko Lehman, a P.E. teacher at Grant Wood, said that school also will receive new PEP-funded equipment, including a climbing wall. She said an eight-person committee has begun discussing PEP issues at Grant Wood, such as creating a running club for students and examining results of surveys showing what students eat.

Grenko Lehman said staff also are incorporating action-based learning into classroom activities.

“There are different ways to teach a lesson besides sitting at your desk,” she said.

Research during the past decade suggests acute and cumulative physical activity can improve students’ abilities in reading and math, said Kathleen Janz, a physical activity epidemiologist and professor at the University of Iowa.

Janz said kids need at least 60 minutes of moderate, vigorous activity each day - running, brisk walking and sports count - and that it’s vital for schools to incorporate physical activity into classes at school outside of P.E. class.

“It can’t possibly be the only way in which we plan activity into the school day,” she said.

Tom Cronk, Kirkwood’s P.E. teacher, said he teams up with first- and second-grade teachers at Kirkwood to incorporate spelling lessons into P.E. activities.

Cronk said students participate in new Movement Mondays and Fitness Fridays, as well. On these days, students focus on activities that will ramp up their heart rates and improve their strength.

He said because elementary kids have access to fewer sports activities after school than older kids, keeping them involved in fitness can be tricky.

“We’ve got to find a way to boost their activity level, and the PEP grant’s been able to help us do that,” he said.

___

Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, https://www.press-citizen.com/

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