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Keep kids moving

Kari Rugless is a physical education specialist at Oltman Middle School. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

Thanks in part to a large grant, the focus of middle school physical education classes is shifting from athletics to fitness.

Kids must be doing moderate to vigorous exercise for 25 out of the 37 minutes they are in class.

"We don't want them standing around on a volleyball court waiting for a ball to drop in front of them," said Julie Grundstrom, Lake Middle School physical education specialist and grant coordinator.

School District 833 is in the second year of a three-year $810,000 grant. Last year, the curriculum was revamped and teachers were trained for fitness goals in middle school gym classes, Grundstrom said.

The fitness-directed program started last fall when junior high schools became middle schools. Now, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students have gym every other day all three years, including five weeks of swimming each year.

Katelyn Quast, Oltman Middle School seventh-grader, said she walked the track at the Park High School Activity Center with her father during the holiday break. "We did 3 miles because he wants to get in shape," she said during gym class. "It was a lot of fun."

Kyle Bernardy is a three-season athlete.

"I'll be exercising all my life," he said.

Jacob Lopez said fitness is important. He likes working out with the Wii fitness program at home.

Fitness is not at the top of the list for Ashley Ryckman, but she regularly goes to the gym with her sister and her father.

Oltman Physical Education Specialist Kari Rugless said that she has noticed adults becoming more aware of their need for exercise. They are also concerned about their children being inactive.

"Since 1970, there's been a 155 percent increase in obesity," she said. "That's my generation."

Rugless, who wants to be a fitness cheerleader for kids, said she doesn't want to get up at 5 a.m. to do her exercise routine, but she does it anyway.

"I have extra energy and I'm more productive at work," she said.

The grant money paid for 600 heart monitors for use in middle school gym classes. Monitors reveal how hard kids are trying and their level of fitness.

Wearing stopwatches and monitors, with information teachers can download to computers, the goal is to get students' hearts beating 150-185 beats per minute. Physical education specialists and athletes call it "the zone."

Less fit students reach the zone faster because they are exerting more effort. Fitter students, such as Bernardy, take longer because their hearts are stronger, according to Grundstrom.

In the past, a student who wasn't able to run as many laps as another was seen as not meeting expectations.

Now, that same student might be told to slow down because his or her heart rate is too high.

Games, such as a recently completed unit on floor hockey, are still being played, but the emphasis is on effort.

"You can't treat all kids the same," Grundstrom said.

Rugless said an overweight student in one of her classes was convinced she could not do pushups. She urged the student to do one pushup, which she accomplished. Rugless hopes it will increase her confidence.

"Our job is to turn kids on to activity," Rugless said, "and see how important it is."

Students keep written logs of fitness and kids are tested four times a year to see if their endurance has improved.

Students run between cones at both ends of the gym and count laps they complete. They are also tested for flexibility and must answer a fitness question.

At the end of the trimester they were asked to list five outdoor activities done in winter and pick two they would like to do, and explain why they'd enjoy them.

They're also asked to do five hours of activity outside of class every two weeks and turn in a log of what they did. Parent signatures are needed.

"That's 14 points and it can really hurt their grades if they don't do it," Rugless said.

In addition to achieving fitness, there is increasing evidence that exercise is linked to student academic achievement.

When California schools switched to a fitness emphasis in gym classes, test scores improved, Grundstrom said.

There is a connection between movement and learning, she said, because more oxygen is getting to the brain. The effect can last up to two hours when kids are in class after gym.

"My goal is to develop a culture so at the end of next year, no one knows the grant has ended," Grundstrom said. "We have what we need to transform game play into fitness."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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