— As the sound system pounds out "Glad You Came"
by The Wanted, the doors to the modest gymnasium at Sope Creek
Elementary School fly open and children come streaming into
the room, racing to take their place among the line dancers.
there are 75 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders twisting,
bending, lunging and hopping their way through a 20-minute set
of dance tunes. When the set ends at 8:15 the children
stretch, then head back to class.
an obesity epidemic harming American children. Childhood
obesity rates are double and triple what they were back in the
1950s, when the President’s Council on Youth Fitness was
founded. Children are not only fatter, they are weaker.
given to a million schoolchildren in Georgia last year found
that only 16 percent could pass the most basic fitness
requirements while 20 percent couldn’t pass a single element
of the five-part test, which included push-ups, running and
flexibility. "This is a huge problem," said Brenda
Fitzgerald, Georgia’s commissioner of public health.
said hospitalization of children for obesity-related diseases,
such as hypertension and diabetes, has increased 300 percent
in the past decade.
back, Fitzgerald recommended that the state’s schools add 30
minutes of exercise every day.
it make them feel? "Sweaty!" says a flushed Bryce
Cargal, 11, pausing in the hallway after the morning workout.
alert! "Coach says if we get better cardio then we can
learn things better," says Greyson Daly, also 11.
Maloney, physical education teacher at the Marietta, Ga.,
school, said the academic payoff of its "Body Shop"
and "Sunrise" programs is already evident. "Our
test scores have gone up," said Maloney, who helped
organize the morning exercise program.
Martha Whalen concurs. "We see a 3 percent increase in
third-, fourth- and fifth-grade CRCT scores. They have better
attention spans, their learning is better, they have increased
memory," she said. Whalen adds that behavioral problems
are also down. "You can see everything improves after
the desire for better grades in Sope Creek’s schoolwide
effort to get children moving is another goal that remains
unspoken: to save lives.
Maloney says you can talk about the health crisis all day long
and nothing will change. "The same argument has been in
play the whole 20 years I’ve been in the county," he
said. "At some point you’ve got to say, ‘maybe we
should call some different plays.’" Sope Creek has
found a new playbook: Appeal to academics, not health
can opt to have their children participate in the Zumba
classes, which come right after the pledge of allegiance,
while morning announcements are still going on.
volunteer and Zumba instructor Natalie Rogers has taught about
15 routines to the students during their regular PE classes,
which they’ve memorized. The older students help model the
dance moves for the younger ones.
it’s to music, the kids love it," said Rogers.
"They don’t realize it’s exercise, they think it’s
just fun." Students can choose either Zumba or a
combination of outdoor exercises, including running, push-ups
who arrive early can take "Body Shop" activities
between 7:15 and 7:50, which include "Gotcha" (a
basketball shooting game) and "Wall Ball," which is
like handball with an over-sized ball. Students in
kindergarten through third grade participate in
"Kick-Start," with teacher-led aerobics in the
classroom or a walk/jog on the school track. Students can also
take "brain-breaks" during the course of the day.
must sacrifice some class time to participate, and not all
want to buy in. But, says Maloney, teachers who have two hours
to impart instruction will find that if they give up a
half-hour, they will get even more work done in the 1.5 hours
left. And, he said, the line of kids returning from the field
"is a whole lot better to work with." Now the state
wants to take the success at Sope Creek and replicate it.
"They are the model we use," said Commissioner
Fitzgerald. "Our plan is to copy it in every single
elementary school in Georgia."