Fitness Program Fortifies Bodies, Minds
Integrating a fitness and nutrition program into everyday lessons helped some elementary students tone up and prepare for a competition. On the way to the contest, students learned more about healthful eating, lost weight, and improved their test scores. Included: Information about Operation Tone-Up.
After months of preparation, two teams of students faced off in a fitness contest where they flexed their muscles and their minds -- but only one team could come away with the title of Fittest School in Arizona.
The contest was part of the schools participation in Operation Tone-Up, which is an interactive nutrition and fitness curriculum. An intensive ten-weeks of instruction prepares students for competition.
It helps motivate them, said R.E. Miller principal James Paczosa, who had the pleasure of being dropped into a dunk tank by the principal of the winning school, Mission Manor. We try to work it into classroom lessons to motivate kids to exercise and eat right.
The competition is rigorous; it includes 26 minutes of continuous exercise, five different exercises -- including squats, jumping jacks, and jogging in place -- and a nutrition knowledge competition. Students might be asked, for example, to explain what nutrition does for the body or discuss the best food to eat for breakfast if they had a test at 10 a.m. The students were judged on form, endurance, and transition time by Tony Lamka, aka Mr. Tone, who runs Operation Tone-Up.
To prepare for the competition, Operation Tone-Up material was integrated into writing, reading, science, and health assignments, and physical education teachers focused on the exercises students needed to do, said Paczosa. (Unfortunately, this was the second consecutive year his school lost to Mission Manor.)
While last year only fourth graders participated in the competition, this year each school competed with 15 students: five third, fourth, and fifth graders. Since the teams arent selected until shortly before the competition, all students take part in the preparation.
Most of the Operation Tone-Up material met the districts language arts, science, and health standards, so it was easy to fit into classroom lessons, said Kristi Hamblen, a fourth-grade teacher at Mission Manor who oversees the Operation Tone-Up program. Teachers also were able to adjust their schedules to allow time for more physical education classes.
Empowering kids is at the core of the mission of Operation Tone-Up, according to Lamka, who said he sees children as underdogs, besieged by ads for junk food and fast food. My goal is to knock out obesity, Lamka told Education World, who said he wants youngsters to learn, apply, and gain personal experience from his curriculum. While Operation Tone-Up started in Arizona, now about 1 million students in the U.S. have taken part in the program, he said.
School staff members observed changes in students thinking and appearance as they participated in Operation Tone-Up. We see kids making better choices at the salad bar at lunch, Paczosa told Education World. We also have recess before lunch now, so students have more time to eat. And parents say their children are looking at nutrition labels and telling them what they should and should not eat. As part of the warm-up for the match with Mission Manor, Miller students and parents took part in a friendly family fitness competition, he added.
At Mission Manor, where about 95 percent of the schools population qualifies for free lunch, many of the students are overweight -- but a number of children lost weight participating in Operation Tone-Up, Hamblen said. Some of them came to me and said, My clothes are too big! The students in the program also were absent less often and some reported that they were the only ones in their family who werent sick when an illness was going around, according to Hamblen.
State test scores also increased for some of the students. Last years fourth graders scored above the previous years class and also showed improvement individually, she said. No other major changes took place in the school during that time, Hamblen added.
She also took students armed with their nutrition fact sheets to a grocery store where they read food labels to compare the carbohydrate, protein, sugar, and fat content of different foods. Now they tell people that Hot Cheetos [a snack food] are empty calories, she joked. Students also wrote persuasive commercials to convince people that their assigned nutrient was the best one.
Hamblen plans to continue the program for the rest of the school year since it is popular and getting such good results. Students have brought a lot of the nutrition and fitness information they learned home, so some families began to eat differently as well. While children often dont have a lot of control over what they eat, Hamblen noted, When they have the opportunity to make a choice, now they have the knowledge to make good choices.