Last spring, during a hearing on promoting healthy habits among children before the House Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee she chairs, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-New York, learned about a unique education-plus-exercise program called Activity Works being piloted in New York.
Yesterday, McCarthy visited Newbridge Road School to see the Activity Works program in action.
"My committee has been pushing for physical activity as part of overall childhood nutrition, anti-obesity policy-making," McCarthy said, adding that since First Lady Michele Obama has taken up the cause, it has received greater national attention.
Nancy Copperman, director, Public Health Initiatives, Office of Community Health and Public Policy at North Shore-LIJ, had described the Activity Works program to that subcommittee in Washington, D.C. Beginning in 2004 when school wellness policies were first mandated, North Shore-LIJ Health System developed the Activity Works program for grades 1 through 3 based on input from educators. The unique in-classroom program combines grade-level curriculum content with exercise.
The North Bellmore School District was one of just five Long Island school districts to pilot Activity Works, starting in early 2009. It was implemented district-wide in all six elementary schools this year.
"It adds extra physical activity to the school day," explained Lynne Smith, coordinator of the district's Prevention Program.
The program provides toolkits for classroom teachers containing DVDs and CDs with 10-minute-activity segments involving stretching and moving containing curriculum-based educational content in subjects such as math, social studies, music and art. It's designed to make it easy for teachers to make use of various segments during their usual daily lessons. The children are rewarded with tokens for participating.
McCarthy watched as students in Joann Larkin's third-grade class participated a DVD-prompted Activity Works social studies segment. Standing next to their classroom desks, each child virtually walked, jogged and climbed across the world, virtually visiting historic sites. The students "lifted" stones, climbed, jumped up and down, even "swam" as they followed voice-over prompts, kept pace with music resonating from a television screen, heard facts about and viewed images of each site along their journey.
"It's a matter of keeping yourself in shape," McCarthy said after thanking the children for the demonstration. "Then you do everything better."
Administrators also watched the demonstration, including Superintendent Arnold Goldstein and Assistanct Superintendent for Curriculum Marilyn Johnson, Newbridge Principal Marilyn Hirschfield, School Board President JoAnn DeLauter and Trustee Joe Perrone.
"The program is in addition to physical education," explained physical education teacher Michael Weiner, who helped implement it.
Copperman explained that data collected in testing the program shows improved self-esteem and focus among the students who participate.
"The 10 minutes a day did not change body weight or BMI," she explained. "But the 10 minutes can lead to greater physical activity outside the classroom."
At a start-up cost of about $4,000, a price tag largely waived in the case of North Bellmore due to its piloting stage participation, Copperman pointed out that the program was recently listed as BOCES reimbursable.
North Shore LIJ hopes to expand Activity Works beyond grades 1 to 3.
"I think all schools should be doing this, but I have to figure out how we can do it," McCarthy said. "I don't like to mandate anything without funding."
"You're going to be the model to show other children around the country," added Principal Hirschfield.