Coordinator says Physical Education Progress grant is making an impact

    One of the primary goals of the three-year, federal PEP (Physical Education Progress) grant currently in its second year in Crookston's public schools and schools in 22 other communities across the region is to "increase physical activity to 60 minutes a day to improve student achievement and health."   

    But, PEP grant project coordinator Lois Mauch told the Crookston School Board this week, that doesn't mean simply adding an hour of physical education to the school schedule every day. While phy-ed classes are a big part of the initiative, she explained, the program's impact is maximized when students in academic classroom settings are more physically active and, in the process, better engage their brains and, the thinking is, learn more.   

    "Research over the last 15 years on activity and the brain, the findings are unreal," Mauch said. "Exercise grows brain cells. We all know how to kill them, so it's nice to know how to grow them."   

    Mauch was accompanied by Crookston PE teachers Lon Boike, Chad Hitchen, Jeremy Lubinski, Mike Hajostek and Marla Wolfe. Each teacher updated the board on equipment purchases the grant has made possible, and how kids are responding to the changes in the PE curriculum.   

    In the first year of PEP, CHS phy-ed and health teacher Boike said, the focus was on identifying strengths and weaknesses in the curriculum. This year, some of the curriculum changes to maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses are being implemented. "It's been a lengthy process, but a great process," he said.   

    Some of the purchases have included a treadmill, new hockey nets, kettle balls, an agility ladder, heart-rate monitors, bigger floor mats, ladder ball nets, baseball gloves and tees, pedometers, scooters, and more.   

    When the kids strap on the heart rate monitor, CHS phy-ed teacher Hitchen said, "It doesn't lie. They can tell me how busy and active they were, but I can go back to the laptop and see what their heart rate actually was and know how active they really were."   

    Lubinski and Hajostek, who teach phy-ed at Highland School, said one of the biggest things they've noticed is a reduction in "standing-in-line" time. In other words, kids spend more of their phy-ed class period actually being physically active and not standing around, waiting for their turn to do something.   

    Wolfe, who teaches phy-ed to the district's youngest students at Washington School, said the children are psyched to wear the pedometers, which count the steps they take. They're also learning about the food groups, nutrition and what they're putting into their bodies. "Little kids don't need the big technical stuff, they just want to move," Wolfe said.   

    The next big step, Mauch said, is getting classroom teachers to get their students moving, too. Grant-funded summer workshops on that topic last summer were a hit with teachers, she said, and more are on the schedule for the upcoming summer. While data shows that Crookston students aren't much more or less obese and overweight than national averages,  Mauch said, recent data on the heart rates of K-4 students in Crookston show their heart rates are significantly better than the national average.   

    "That shows, I think, that your teachers are definitely making a difference already," she said.   

    An area with definite room for growth is the amount of fruits and vegetables Crookston kids are eating, especially the latter. "It seems like most of them are getting their two fruits, but they're really low on vegetables," Mauch said. "We need to focus on that."   

    The PEP Grant is the only federal grant program targeted at physical education, she said. Once the three-year program expires after the 2014-15 school year, she said, the district can apply for another grant.   

    "It's making a difference and it will continue to make a difference," she said. "The connection to the classroom is critical. If kids are having trouble with their motor skills in phy-ed, chances are they aren't doing very well in the classroom, either."