Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part, back-to-school series on wellness initiatives in the Lawrence school district. Today: Physical activity.
Molly Roecker, 7, and her brother Adam, 11, have been walking and running at least a mile before school twice a week.
Last year, the Langston Hughes students completed 26.2 miles — a marathon — along with about 100 classmates.
“It’s not that hard,” Adam said with a smile. Molly nodded in agreement.
They participate in the Bobcat Marathon Club, which was started in 2006. Students receive a T-shirt when they complete a marathon, and their picture is posted in the school.
Their parents, Michael and Janet, said the program gets them moving, too, because often one of them walks alongside the kids.
“We get exercise in the mornings, but it’s also a time to walk and talk with the kids and spend time with them — sometimes that gets pretty precious and rare in this busy day and age,” Michael said.
Adam has surprised his parents by taking his running to the next level. He’s completed several 5K (3.1 mile) runs and has improved his time with each race.
“They want to try to be healthier and keep in shape. They’ve changed their eating habits,” Michael said.
The marathon club concept has grown to other schools in the Lawrence School District. This year, it’s expected to be offered at seven additional schools. It’s just one initiative that aims to get students moving. Other examples include:
• A bicycle club at Prairie Park.
• Walking school bus program at New York.
• Intramural volleyball program at South Middle School.
The district provides a Get Moving program for elementary students in coordination with the Douglas County Community Health Improvement Project. In past years, students recorded their physical activity outside of school by pen and paper and then received rewards for their achievements like bowling or swimming passes.
This year, the program will be offered online through school websites in a fun format that includes tips and resources.
“We are working to provide kids with lots of different alternatives before and after school and to educate them and their families,” said Anne Hawks, district curriculum specialist.
There are changes coming this year in the classrooms, too.
Middle school students will have gym class every other day for the entire year instead of every day for one semester.
Teresa Grieb, physical education instructor at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, said the change will benefit the students because they will be reminded about making healthy choices and staying active.
“Most kids like P.E. and want to do something at this age. In fact, for some it’s a stress reliever,” she said.
Grieb is among 11 teachers trained in how to use an online program called Fitnessgram that provides reports for students and tips on how to improve their fitness.
“The program creates this wonderful report for the student. It tells them their BMI (body mass index). It tells them where their fitness level is and what things they can do to improve their scores,” Grieb said.
Parents can access their children’s fitness report along with grades.
Grieb said she will be able to look at the report and see what the classroom needs to work on — for example, upper-arm strength or cardio — and then tailor her instruction accordingly.
Unfortunately, the goal was to start offering the program this fall, but district officials aren’t sure whether they will be able to because of state budget cuts. They still plan to offer it, but may have to find funding elsewhere.
The district also teams up when possible to promote physical activity.
It has partnered with two Kansas University professors for a research project on the effects of physical activity that’s used as part of the curriculum. The idea is to weave physical activities into lessons, for example, doing jumping jacks for math facts or acting out a history lesson. The plan is to start the project this fall in second and third grades.
The district and city of Lawrence applied for a grant to improve sidewalks around schools and are waiting to hear back.
The district formed a Coordinated School Health Council in 2006 that is composed of school and community members, including pediatricians, health advocates and health department staff. It meets monthly.
“They help steer us in the right direction when it comes to health and wellness in our district,” Hawks said.
Susan Krumm, a nutritionist with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, serves on the council. She said that wellness needs to be addressed at school and home. She said children who participate in activities with their families tend to grow up and be active adults.
“We have to provide that incentive early on to get kids moving,” she said.
Case in point — the Roecker family.
About three months ago, Adam and Molly encouraged their mother, Janet, to participant in a 5K run with them.
“I’m not an athletic person. That’s just really not my thing, but this April, Molly and I did a 5K together,” Janet said. “We didn’t run a whole lot of it. We just ran a little bit and walked most of it, but I told her the fact that we finished it — she was 6 years old and I had never done one — that was something to be really proud of.”
• Part One — Nutrition.
• Part Three — Staff wellness.