The Other 60 Percent

Healthy Kids Club gets kids moving

Elementary schools across Colorado are searching for ways to get their students out of their seats and moving around, to satisfy a new state law mandating at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

Larimer County students at a Healthy Kids Club fun run last spring. Photo courtesy HKC.

That’s something some northern Colorado school districts have been doing for years now, thanks to the efforts of the Poudre Valley Health System, the private, not-for-profit medical hub that serves Larimer and Weld counties.

Among the many community outreach programs sponsored by PVHS is the Healthy Kids Club, a collaborative effort being touted by education officials as an example of what’s possible – and what’s working.

Healthy Kids Club works in partnership with schools in the Poudre, Thompson, Windsor, Johnstown and Greeley school districts to bring them a variety of classroom resources and organized activities to get kids moving and eating right.

“When we started in 1998, we did a pretty extensive evaluation with the schools, mostly in Fort Collins, about health trends, and what they were seeing in their kids,” said Laurie Zenner, Healthy Kids Club manager. “Even in ’98, they were seeing the trends that now are getting so much more press – about obesity, too much screen time, fast food, etc.”

Back then, the response was to develop after-school programs for low-income youngsters, including a series of “fun runs.” After that came short health education units that classroom teachers could use. About six years ago, HKC began devising tools to help teachers add activity breaks into the course of the school day.

Today, HKC offers a whole suite of activity, educational and fund-raising programs for schools. Among them:

  • The Healthy Kids Run Series for children ages 5-12 and the Fit.Teen run series for youth 13-18.
  • The Girls Gotta Run program for fifth-grade girls.
  • The Schools on the Move activity-tracking program for elementary and middle schools. Last year, 70 schools participated in the challenge program, which takes place each February. Prize money was awarded to 20 schools.
  • In-school health education programs on more than 100 topics that align with the Colorado State Health standards. Most of the lessons are geared to kindergarteners and fourth-graders, but this year, HKC is piloting a comprehensive K-5 program at one school, B.F. Kitchen Elementary in Loveland.
  • Healthy Kids News,” a monthly health-focused newsletter distributed to 28,000 students to take home and share with their parents.
  • Classroom resources including “Kids on the Move” activity decks and “Minds in Motion” fit sticks and activity cards that offer suggestions for quick exercises that can be done right in the classroom. So far, the decks and sticks are in use in nearly 1,000 classrooms.
  • Weekly after-school programs for children in two low-income neighborhoods in Fort Collins and Loveland.

Relationship with schools is key

“I think we’re pretty unique,” said Anne Genson, Healthy Kids Club education coordinator.

“I don’t know of another health system who has any kind of program like this. Others may have pieces, but we have a comprehensive approach to working with schools. And since we’ve been working with them so long now, that relationship is really key.”

Teachers praise Healthy Kids Club, saying it’s a pretty painless way to up the level of physical activity for students.

“Every P.E. teacher I come across, I tell them this is a no-brainer,” said Mike Pappas, physical education teacher at Letford Elementary in Johnstown. “The resources are free.”

At Letford, teachers have added more and more HKC programs each year. The past two years, they’ve participated in the Schools on the Move challenge, which provides t-shirts and prizes to students and schools for keeping activity and nutrition logs, and for encouraging their parents and siblings to join them in exercise.

“It’s a great awareness program to get the kids to exercise outside of school,” Pappas said. “Any day you come to school, you’ll see kids wearing their Schools on the Move t-shirts. It’s just a real positive.”

Nancy West, a P.E. teacher at three small schools in rural Larimer County, spends only half a day each week at the schools. Since more frequent P.E. isn’t possible for those schools, she’s provided classroom teachers with a number of HKC materials to promote in-classroom activity.

“Teachers may start a lesson off with an activity break. It gets the kids out of their chairs and ready to learn, especially if they’re starting to get a little antsy,” West said.

“The breaks only take two or three minutes. The kids might use their desks to do push-ups. Or walk around everyone’s desk in the classroom. The activities are geared for use right in the classroom and don’t require any special equipment or space. And the kids seem to be more motivated when they know an activity break is coming up.”

Cutting edge neuropsychology

Chris Hunt, P.E. teacher at Traut Elementary in Fort Collins, has taken his Healthy Kids Club resources to a whole new level.

Learn more
  • Read the new state law mandating a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
  • Watch a video of the Academics in Action RTI program.

Funded by a grant from CanDo, the Coalition for Activity and Nutrition to Defeat Obesity, a communitywide task force that is largely funded by Poudre Valley Health System, Hunt has built a whole movement-based academic intervention program for kids struggling with reading or math.

Called Academics in Action RTI – building on the popular Response to Intervention academic intervention program – Hunt’s program targets youngsters who are having trouble mastering certain basic skills and gives them some special time in the gym to work on those skills while engaged in fun movement.

“This is really the cutting edge of neuropsychology, the role of movement in helping kids retain information,” said Hunt, a family therapist and a sixth-grade teacher before shifting to P.E. two years ago.

He has devised ways to help children learn reading skills while riding scooters, jumping on mini-tramps, climbing walls and ladders, playing ball, crawling through tunnels and tumbling on mats. It looks like kids playing, he said, but pre- and post-tests have demonstrated growth.

“This is something I’m adamant about,” Hunt said. “This is a wonderful way to meet the needs of kids who have a hard time sitting still or, on the other end, the kids who are very lethargic in class. Movement is a way to meet both groups’ needs.”

In addition to creating active ways to help kids learn, Hunt has taken the activities suggested in the HKC Minds in Motion cards and coded them to match the 2010 Colorado academic standards. For example, having kids use their bodies to form letters is one physically active way to help teach phonemic awareness.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”