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Thursday, September 6, 2012

School excited about Wellness Wednesday and its day-long focus on physical fitness

By Tammy Lane
Fayette County Public Schools

Wellness Wednesday has caught fire at Dixie Magnet Elementary, where teachers crank up the activity level to infuse exercise and movement throughout the school day.

Introduced by P.E./health teacher Scott Loscheider, the new program has met with widespread enthusiasm as colleagues – dressed down in T-shirts and sweatpants – promote physical fitness during their regular lessons. Wellness Wednesday has also spawned a spinoff in after-school yoga for the staff.

“The power of modeling is huge. If I can get all the other teachers on board, then I can collaborate and reach outside the four walls of my gym,” Loscheider said. “My job is to engage these kids and turn them on to a lifetime of physical activity. It’s my mission to find out what they like and give them every opportunity to do it.”

Wellness Wednesday has the potential to produce lasting health and academic benefits. “We’re building the plane as we go. You see what works, and if it doesn’t, you find out what’s better,” as Loscheider said.

In a first-grade classroom, for instance, Stephanie Haggard leads a “phonics dance” as the children chant sight words and add sports motions such as bowling and shooting baskets.

“We try to put activity into math, reading, anywhere we can. It’s very engaging, and they get into it when we can make a game of it,” Haggard said. “I try to do something every day to get them up and moving. This age group needs that physical activity. They can’t sit still all day.”

She also sprinkles in “brain breaks” as needed. If the youngsters are taxed after a challenging lesson, they can randomly select a Popsicle stick labeled with a quick activity – perhaps stretching their whole body or hanging loose like a rag doll.

“It brings their attention back, and they’re more alert and focused,” Haggard said.

Down the hall, fifth-graders demonstrate they are on the ball, too, as Blake Bishop slips code words into the day’s math lesson. Whenever he mentions “product,” for example, the students hop up to share a dance move.

Wellness Wednesday at Dixie ripples out from the classrooms to the media center to the playground. For Rachel Creager’s third-graders, a reward option might be five minutes reading for fun while pedaling the exercise bike right there in her classroom. Meanwhile, a group in the library breaks into a flash-mob dance to the surfing song “Wipeout.”

Librarian Kelly Fischer, who once owned a dance studio, identifies with kinesthetic learners. So when she reinforces the elements of dance core content with an active call-and-response technique, it’s all the better for the children’s comprehension.

“Rather than me just talking, it grabs their attention so they’re more interested in what we’re doing,” she explained.

Wellness Wednesday also aims to enliven recess, and the program’s launch coincided with Dixie’s adding supersized chess pieces to its outdoor game board.

Visual arts teacher Rachel Losch said children who don’t enjoy kickball or tag may opt for chess or checkers instead, noting, “They can use their brains to think about strategy while they’re playing.”