Let's Move! Active Schools!
Tenafly physical education teacher Susan Toth is a certified Drums Alive Instructor. Photo by Jean Terman

You’ve seen the news stories. You’ve heard the statistics. Today’s kids are the most physically inactive generation in America’s history. Not only does that inactivity have potentially harmful effects on their health, but it has also been proven to negatively impact their academic performance.

A 2012 report produced by Nike, Inc., the American College of Sports Medicine, and the International Council of Science and Physical Education consolidated the research on physical inactivity and concluded that today's 10 year olds are the first generation expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The “Designed to Move,” report advanced a simple framework to reverse this trend: create early positive experiences for children in sports and physical activity, and integrate physical activity into everyday life (www.nikeinc.com/news/designed-to-move).

That’s why the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and other organizations have joined First Lady Michele Obama’s 2010 Let’s Move! program to form Let’s Move! Active Schools! This unprecedented collaboration, which includes organizations such as The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, is designed to align and leverage collective resources to significantly boost the quality and quantity of physical activity in America’s schools. The program provides simple steps and tools, including monetary support and training, to help schools create active environments where students get 60 minutes of daily physical activity through quality physical education and physical activity before, during and after the school day.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation will serve as a managing partner to the new initiative, which aims to engage 50,000 schools across the country. Each school will follow the Alliance's Six Steps to a Healthier School:

1. Build support.

2. Assess your school.

3. Develop your action plan.

4. Explore resources.

5. Take action.

6. Celebrate success!

Active students in Tenafly

Let's Move! Active Schools! 
Hopewell Valley Central HS teacher Lois Fyfe and her colleagues use iPads to build student interest and proficiency in fitness.

One unique aspect of Let’s Move! Active Schools! is that it combines the effective parts of existing programs and draws on new resources to provide customized support for participating schools. In other words, you or your colleagues may already have a program in place that meets the Let’s Move! objectives.

Here are some of the programs my colleagues and I have instituted at Tenafly Middle School (TMS):

1. Members of the community are asked to share their expertise with students during National Physical Education Week in May, providing them with experiences they may not receive in a traditional physical education class. Students are exposed to yoga, speed training, fencing, and Irish, Korean, and African Dance. In addition, Olympic athletes have spoken to youngsters about what it takes to become an Olympian.

2. Thanks to a partnership between the National Football League and the American Heart Association, TMS is an NFL PLAY 60 Challenge School. Throughout the year, football players from the New York Giants partner with physical education teachers to inspire students to exercise 60 minutes per day and lead physically active lifestyles.

3. Last Sept. 27, TMS students participated in the first-ever nationwide JAM World Record. Known as the Jammin Minute®, students and teachers throughout the school took a one-minute fitness break at 10 a.m. I announced the break period over the school’s public address system everyone followed along to different exercises shown on an interactive program on SMART® boards.

4. I like to bring a variety of innovative programs into my classes using equipment such as swim noodles, stability balls, z-balls, and body bars, and I generally start each class period with an instant activity to get students moving. I have also introduced Game Creations, Barrel of Fun, and Drums Alive®.

Game Creations is a unit where students have the opportunity to use their imagination and creative skills. Students create a game using any equipment available in the PE department. The game should be fun, safe and creative with maximum student participation. This game creation is divided into two parts: a complete description of the game including equipment, rules, skills, diagrams and safety considerations and a peer presentation (teaching) of the new game to the class. Getting students involved teaching class makes students more accountable for their learning.

Barrel of Fun is a games unit involving all types of equipment and concepts. Various games are played that include such concepts as agility, cooperation, teamwork, brainpower, finesse, offensive and defensive strategies and quick decision making. Equipment used in these games include rubber chickens, noodles, parachutes, tennis balls, balloons and discs.

Using rhythm as the source of inspiration to discover a new group fitness experience, Drums Alive® combines the benefits of a traditional physical fitness program with the brain affected benefits of music and rhythm. The program fosters a healthy balance physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. Learn more at www.drums-alive.com.

Active students at schools across New Jersey

Here are some schools that have also created innovative programs to get kids moving in physical education classes and throughout the school day.

At Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, physical education teachers Lois Fyfe, Gary Nucera and Maggie Rarich combine technology and physical activity. Their department has an iPad cart for student use. Sophomores used them to video other students playing pickleball. It was a great way for students to see what they were doing correctly and improve on their individual skills. Students also use a fitness app to teach their classmates different exercises in the fitness center. Each student was responsible for a particular muscle group. Students then looked on the iPad to see how to perform each exercise step by step. Lastly, they taught their exercises to small groups. It was an excellent way for seniors to learn new exercises and how to use technology as they move to adulthood and seek to maintain active lifestyles.

Let’s Move! Active Schools! activities at Harrison Township Elementary School in Mullica Hill have provided additional exercise for all students. Physical education teacher Michelle Fox says “Move It! Move It! Day” is extremely popular. At any time during that special day, when the song is played over the intercom, everyone—whether they are in a classroom, the library, the gymnasium, the lunchroom or a hallway—must dance for one minute. It is a fun activity for staff and students.

Grade one through four students at Tabernacle Elementary School earn plastic foot charms each month by increasing their cardiovascular endurance in a jogging program that began 13 years ago. In September students are asked to jog for three minutes. At the end of the month, they can earn a charm and sign the “Three-minute” poster. Each month a minute is added. Students who have earned a foot charm each month receive a special “runner” charm for shoelaces. Students in the program have shared with physical education teacher Beth Manning that they run at home to make it easier to earn a foot charm. The charms are purchased by the PTA.

The Regional Day School in Jackson’s “Riding Bikes for our Future” program is incorporated into physical education classes, recess, and physical and occupational sessions. The bikes are ridden in the hallway, the gym, around the outside of the building and on the track. In addition, a bike club meets four times a week during school hours. Some students are given the opportunity to ride at the end of the day as a reward for completing their work.

“During every minute of every day, someone is on a bike,” explains adaptive physical education teacher Traci Fuller.

Fuller earned a grant from Nike that garnered $3,000 toward the purchase of the bikes, which are stored overnight in the gym; in the morning a volunteer takes them outside where they are placed in a bike rack that was purchased through fundraisers. A donation of 100 helmets came from the Ocean County Traffic Safety Response Team. The school also received a donation of a stationary bike that stays in the hallway.

Assemblies to promote bicycle and road safety have been presented by the Epilepsy Foundation and commissioner of traffic safety. Health classes also discuss road safety.

This program helps develop social skills, self-esteem and positive healthy attitudes among our students,” Fuller believes. “Having our students exercise through biking allows us to integrate transportation into our curriculum, which involves our school and community.”

As the program has grown, Fuller has written other grants to local organizations for the purchase of bicycles. Other  fundraisers in conjunction with Box Tops funds has helped to purchase new bike tires and maintain existing bikes.

Register for Lets Move! Active Schools!

We know that today’s schools face many challenges. They're balancing multiple priorities and dealing with shrinking budgets. Still, it’s critical that we get our students moving so they can excel in school and live a healthier life.

We're looking for school champions in every community to lead this effort, and anyone can be that champion. From physical education and classroom teachers to administrators, staff, and parents, all it takes is one dedicated person to step up and start making a difference.

You can learn more about Let’s Move! Active Schools! at  www.letsmoveschools.org or through the New Jersey Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (NJAHPERD). The NJAHPERD website, www.njahperd.org, offers links to other association partners, such as Jump Rope/Hoops for Heart, and provides valuable resources on professional development opportunities for teachers.

Susan Toth is a physical education teacher at Tenafly Middle School. She has been named the Bergen County, NJAHPERD Middle School, and Eastern District Middle School Teacher of the Year. She also serves as NJAHPERD’s Let’s Move coordinator. Toth can be reached at stoth@tenafly.k12.nj.us.