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Schrop students learn about fitness with new program

3/29/2012 - South Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

Fifth- and sixth-graders at Schrop Intermediate School are shown running at Springfield Bog Metro Park as part of the school’s after-school fitness program.
The fitness program included a morning walking club in the winter.
Students in the program also did a number of strengthening exercises.
Photos courtesy of Springfield Local Schools
SPRINGFIELD — Students at Schrop Intermediate School are getting an early start at lifelong fitness, thanks to physical education teacher Betty Kern.

Kern has been offering extracurricular physical education activities since early September in response to concerns about an increase in childhood obesity rates and type 2 diabetes, as well as a decrease in the time allotted for physical education in public schools in the past few years.

Kern said since 1980, obesity in pre-adolescents (children up to age 12) has doubled and the rate for teens has tripled. She said 80 percent of all overweight teens become obese adults. In addition, one in three children born since 1999 will develop type 2 diabetes if the current diagnosis trend continues, she added.

Kern also said children used to get physical education classes two to three times a week, but the focus on test scores and decreasing revenue has reduced that time to about 35 minutes one to two days per week. The National Association for Sports and Physical Education recommends children get almost two hours per week, she added.

“Studies have shown there is a positive link between learning and fitness,” said Kern. “Kids who get more recess and [physical education] time had the same test scores or improved.”

In response, Kern started FAST, or the Fitness Afterschool Training Club.

“I expected about 40 to 50 students, and instead I got 120,” she said. “I was shocked.”

Kern said students started with 30 to 45 minutes of strengthening exercises, such as push-ups sand sit-ups, to strengthen the core and upper body, and then moved to outside running. The program finished Nov. 11 with a 1.6-mile race at Springfield Bog Metro Park. The students wore race numbers donated by Second Sole to make it official, and the high school cross country team helped conduct the race, she said.

Kern said 70 children competed for prizes, which were awarded to the top two finishers in each grade. The prizes included snacks donated by Giant Eagle and duffle bags and coupons from Hibbett Sporting Goods.

Kern started another fitness club several weeks later with 20 girls and 20 boys working on all aspects of fitness and another in February that focused on cardio, strength and flexibility, with about the same number of participants.

Kern said students had to complete applications for the limited spots, offering the following reasons submitted by students: searching for a way to stay in shape for a spring sport; enjoying being physically active; looking for an activity to help with ballet classes; wanting to learn more about nutrition; wanting to be able to run a mile and be happy about it; and looking for a way to be active without paying for or playing a sport.

Kern said she started adding information about nutrition during warm-ups and talked about consuming water and the federal government’s “My Plate” food guidelines, and offered suggestions such as eating an apple instead of candy as a sweet treat. She also suggested students stop drinking pop and had students sign pledge cards to refrain from consuming energy drinks.

“I was really on them about the soda and energy drinks, which I was surprised that they consumed at this age,” Kern said. “The caffeine combined with sugar does not help students sit still and learn. Kids have jumped on board with this and whole families are participating.”

Kern said students are telling her they feel better and can pay attention more easily after participating in the club. In addition, Kern said there are fewer discipline problems. She said the students also talk about taking walks or jogging with other family members in nearby parks.

Also during the winter, Kern offered a daily walking club at 7:30 a.m., a “3-minute morning wakeup” activity students did at their desks during morning announcements and a yoga class during Friday afternoon study hall.

Kern said she will start another running club when the weather permits, but is hampered by wet conditions in the school’s backyard. Kern added she hopes to alleviate that problem with a Lowe’s grant she has applied for to install an outdoor running track the community also can use. She will know if she wins the grant in mid-April, she said.

In addition, Kern plans to host another race at the end of May and has invited students in fourth through sixth grades from other school districts to participate.

Eventually, she would like to expand activities to include a climbing wall and an archery club.

“I am always trying to think of something new,” said Kern. “This is all about teaching kids to be physically fit for life.”

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