Applying Ratey’s Ideas to Our District’s Daily Regimen

Type: Article
Topics: Health & Wellness, School Administrator Magazine

September 01, 2016

Kids sit at desks on blue exercise balls instead of chairs
Students at Hydetown Elementary School in Titusville, Pa., use exercise balls instead of traditional chairs in the classroom to allow for some fidgeting. (Photo courtesy of Titusville Area School District.)

At Titusville High School, it’s not uncommon to see students running through the halls, down the stairs, out the front door, then back to their classroom. These students aren’t misbehaving; they’re following their English teacher’s instructions.

About 20 minutes into each 43-minute class, English teacher Judy Millar has her students do something she calls a “brain boost,” a break in instruction for physical exercise. “Mentally, I have them for the rest of the class after that,” she says.

Millar isn’t alone in this endeavor. Many teachers in our 2,100-student school district in the rural northwestern corner of Pennsylvania have adopted John Ratey’s conviction that exercise is like Miracle-Gro for the brain. For more than 15 years, inspired by the success of the PE4life movement implemented in Naperville, Ill., our district’s physical education program has promoted active and healthy living through quality, daily physical activity. Students are assessed on progress toward physical fitness rather than athletic prowess.

Across All Grades

 Physical activity is incorporated into the students’ day at all grade levels.

Pre-K and Kindergarten:

 Every 4-year-old half-day kindergarten student participates in PE twice per week. Starting in 2016-17, all 4-year-olds will participate in PE prior to the start of the academic day to promote blood and oxygen flow to the brain.

 Every 5-year-old kindergarten student has daily PE for 20 minutes. This approach is linked to the English language arts curriculum by incorporating letter recognition, letter sounds, sight words and visual motor position concepts. For example, moving the whole body from left to right and top to bottom can support students’ reading ability.

Elementary School:

 Our school board adopted a wellness policy discouraging removal of a student from recess as a consequence for not having met academic responsibilities, recognizing that disruptive students may be the ones who benefit most from physical activity.

 Some teachers have found the benefits of using exercise balls as chairs in the classroom, which give the students the ability to “fidget” while still paying attention to the lesson.

Middle School:

 Middle school students participate in daily PE for one semester each year, where they are exposed to activities ranging from cross-country skiing to skateboarding.

 Students learn sports-based skills in a manner that guarantees success to the student. For example, basketball is played in a small-sided format (3 on 3) so students get their heart rate in the target zone to attain maximum fitness benefits.

High School:

 A 9th period was added to our high school’s master schedule to enable every high school student to take PE daily, fulfilling a graduation requirement of four PE credits. Students select from a variety of activities, such as swimming, cardio, weightlifting and indoor climbing.

 In high school, and increasingly at all grade levels, students are given brain boost time prior to sitting for state standardized tests.

Measuring Progress

Our district began tracking data early in the transition and found that disciplinary incidents declined and student attendance approved. Anecdotal evidence also suggested a positive transformation in the overall climate of the schools. Because the PE program makes a wide variety of sports and fitness activities available for all students, no one is teased or ridiculed for a lack of athleticism.

Our district and the community as a whole have greatly benefited from a health and wellness-focused curriculum.


Karen E. Jez
About the Author

Karen Jez is superintendent of Titusville Area School District in Titusville, Pa.

   Karen Jez