Feeling the burn & ready to learn

Kisara Vanderstel, left, and Aparis Goree-Brown crab walk across the floor

Walk into West Kelloggsville Elementary before the school bell rings on any given day, and you will find jumping starfish, crawling bears and shuffling gorillas. Leading the colony, the sleuth or the troop, depending on the animal, is Josh Pry, physical education teacher.

“Deep breath in… deep breath out.. In… out. Who remembers the gorilla shuffle?” Pry asks.

From left: Eliceo Ash, Anish Gurung and Bryan Terry shake it out at the end of their pre-bell workout

The room erupts in movement as students begin. This is morning workout, a short regimen of alternating movement and relaxation exercises geared toward those who struggle to pay attention in class. Pry implemented the program this winter, after kindergarten teacher Joy Howard read an article about improving emotional regulation in just seven minutes a day. She shared it with Josh and other staff.

“[Josh] said it definitely made sense with what he had learned,” Howard recalled. “The school counselor brought it up at a staff meeting, and the teachers wanted us to give it a try.”

While the mechanism of how, exactly, students crab-walking around school and running in place helps with their concentration isn’t fully understood, studies show that exercise does indeed improve cognition.

“Physical activity has been proven to enhance your thinking ability and brainpower,” said Pry. “So if you can get students moving and grounded before heading to the classroom, they’re ready to learn. That was our big mission: can we send them ready to learn?”

From left: Amariyanna Granger, Madison Rexford, and Aparis Goree-Brown jog in place

A Noticeable Difference

The morning workout takes place in the gym or, if the gym is occupied, a classroom. Second-grade teacher Melissa Wilhelm helps Pry each day. She has seen firsthand how it has helped the few students from her classroom who attend.

“Normally when we first come in those students have a difficult time concentrating — even just getting their breakfast and getting started,” she said. “This is just a great way to get their wiggles out and get that burst of energy out so that when they come in, they can get started. It sets the tone. Having them calm, their classmates are calmer. It’s been nice, and they feel special for doing it.”

Howard has also seen benefits.

“I have a couple of boys that have a very hard time controlling their bodies,” she said. “I can definitely tell a difference when they do morning movement. When they work hard in the movement class, they come in much calmer and under control.”

Anish Gurung does ‘starfish jumps’

Students Say…

Teachers in each grade at West Kelloggsville have invited students to attend morning workout. The bell rings at 8:45 a.m. but most students are on the playground by 8:30 a.m., said Pry, so it’s simple enough to round them up.

Second-grader Amariyanna Ganger got invited to morning workout and said she attends most days.

“It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel ready for learning,” she said.

Her classmate, second-grader Ta’Quan Douglas, is new to morning workout. His favorite maneuver is starfish jumping, which is similar to jumping jacks. Although he’s only been coming for a few days, he said he thinks he pays better attention in class since joining the workout crew.

There has been another benefit to morning movement — an unanticipated one: staff have seen a decrease in playground conflict in the morning. Wilhelm, Howard and Pry all noted that taking just a few energetic students off the unstructured environs of the playground and having them channel that energy toward a workout has created a more peaceful atmosphere before and after the bell.

“It’s been really positive so far,” said Pry, adding that the students involved have enjoyed the additional attention. “The kids feel really special doing it — it’s something they get to do and not everyone else gets to do.”

Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio or email Bridie.

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