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Want to Get Students Moving? Take the Pledge

December 16, 2013

Officials in the Decatur County School District in southwest Georgia knew life for many of their students and families wasn’t as healthy as it should be. In the 2013 County Health Rankings, published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin, Decatur County was listed at 140 out of Georgia’s 159 counties for health outcomes – the length and quality of life – and 152 for health factors, including health behaviors, social factors and the physical environment.

Students at Decatur County elementary schools will be among the first in the state to move more with Power Up for 30.

Debbie Purcell, the district’s school nutrition director, said the low rankings served as a wake-up call for school staff.

“Decatur County Schools saw the importance of instilling in our students the knowledge and desire to live healthy lives. It is very important for our families and community that we come together and address these issues to improve life outcomes,” she said.

Their steps toward healthy change began by adding more movement to the school day. This year, Decatur County Schools became one of the first districts to sign a participation pledge for Power Up for 30, Georgia SHAPE’s statewide initiative encouraging schools to add 30 extra minutes of physical activity to students’ schedules before, during or after school.

Purcell said she thinks the Power Up for 30 initiative will help Decatur County’s five elementary schools incorporate more physical activity into a very busy day of curriculum, which will make students better physically and academically.

“We anticipate the result from these activities will be students that are more ready to learn and ultimately achieving better grades,” she said.

Student physical activity is becoming increasingly important not only to teachers and school staff, but to parents as well, according to a recent national survey. RWJF, in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and National Public Radio, asked 1,400 adults with a child attending a public or public charter school in grades K-12 during the 2012-2013 school year to grade their child’s school wellness environment on factors such as the opportunities to be physically active and the access to healthy food choices. While most parents gave their child’s school high grades in overall categories, concerns emerged around schools’ lack of support of physical activity. Nearly 30 percent of parents gave their child’s school a grade of C or lower for providing time for physical activity. About 70 percent said their child's school did not provide daily physical education; 25 percent reported that physical education got too little emphasis in school.

Power Up for 30 is designed to address concerns like these by making physical activity a regular part of children’s lives. The program capitalizes on a growing body of research connecting physical activity to an enhanced learning environment. Children who are more active in school are more alert, attentive and have better classroom behavior. They also tend to have higher grades and test scores than their less active peers. Daily exercise stimulates the brain so it can grow, and incorporating just 30 minutes or more of physical activity into the school routine can improve performance in academics.

So far, 223 Georgia schools have made the pledge to put Power Up for 30 to work for their students. All elementary schools who sign the participation pledge receive a needs assessment, a free one-day training session for a designated team of school leaders, low- or no-cost resources, a technical support system and an opportunity to be recognized statewide for wellness efforts from SHAPE’s local partner organization, HealthMPowers.

Decatur County School teachers and staff are hoping the long-term impact of Power Up for 30 will lead to increased awareness of healthy lifestyle choices and enhanced learning for their students.

“Movement is developmentally appropriate for students,” said April Aldridge, Ph.D., assistant superintendent of the district’s elementary curriculum. “By integrating physical activity into the school day outside of the normal expected scheduled times, we will help students to embrace movement as a natural part of their day.”

For more information on Power Up for 30 and to sign the pledge for your school, visit the program’s page on the Georgia SHAPE website.