School Exercise Program Helping Children Start Off on the Right Foot

Youngsters at District 203's Ann Reid Early Childhood Center culminate their four-month exercise program with Duckling Dash run.

For many runners, a 0.1-mile (176 yards) course is a blurry forgetful sprint. But on Monday, 352 3-, 4- and 5-year olds made a life statement on that short course.

Since February, District 203’s Ann Reid Early Childhood Center has been helping to increase the physical activity of its students. The school has been achieving this through its “Let’s Get Moving” program.

Every morning before the start of class, the childhood center plays two songs. Student, teachers and the staff spend these six to eight minutes dancing. Jeannie Matula, principal of Ann Reid, said some of the students’ favorite songs are, “YMCA,” “Twist and Shout,” “Footloose” and “Celebration.”

“We kind of stayed away from the traditional kids songs; they tend to be slow and short in duration,” Matula said. “We’ve had some Spanish songs, a variety of rock n’ roll and some rap songs; as long as you can dance to it.”

Karen Pierz, a physical therapist at Ann Reid, along with another teacher started the program at the school. Pierz said studies show physical activity helps students place information into long-term memory. The program also educates students about their body. After dancing, each student feels their heart, allowing them to recognize the increase in their heart rate.

Pierz, the staff at Ann Reid and parents celebrated the culmination of the “Let’s Get Moving” program Monday, as students ran the tenth-of-a-mile Duckling Dash.

Before the children began their run they received a pep talk from Macey Brooks, executive director of Elite Sports Performance Complex, an athletic training facility in Oswego. Brooks caught 40 passes in two seasons as a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, and was drafted by two Major League Baseball teams.

Brooks focused on how exercise helps increase the kids’ energy not only for school but their whole life. Although Brooks said he believes the education system needs to focus on health in multiple levels – such as in the classroom, in the cafeteria and by promoting discussions – he also said parents have a large role to play.

“I’ve never been a health nut but I just see a lot of loopholes; there are parents that are thin, but their kids are obese,” Brooks said. “The parents are not passing on their knowledge; they are perpetuating the same process.

"It’s not just the school’s job to solve this problem but the school should also serve to educate the parents.”

Chris Gellert, 40, of Naperville, who watched her daughter run Monday said she believes the program has improved her child's well-being.

“She has been running around in circles at home now,” Gellert said. “I think this program has helped.”

Pierz said she can testify to the improvements made by students over the past four months. She said when the program began there was a student who could only run about 10 feet. Monday, that same student ran the entire 0.1-mile course.

“Just to see the pride on their faces and the pride on their parents’ faces provides so much meaning,” Pierz said. “I can’t even put it in words.”


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