Thursday morning exercise class good for students and teachers

Sixty-four St. Anthony Park Elementary School students get up early to attend the before-school exercise class on Thursday mornings.

Sixty-four St. Anthony Park Elementary School students get up early to attend the before-school exercise class on Thursday mornings.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that an active kid is a happy kid, but there is a slew of scientific studies that shows kids who exercise regularly do better at school as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children ages 6- 17. The average length of a gym class at St. Paul elementary schools is between 20 and 45 minutes, and physical education classes are rotated with other specialty classes so students  attend gym classes every few days.

Jenny Martineau, a St. Anthony Park Elementary School parent and registered nurse, didn’t think that was enough. After some research, she found the BOKS Program, a Reeboks initiative that strives to instill a love of fitness in children at a young age and promotes the positive impact of physical activity on a child’s mind and body.

BOKS—Building Our Kids Success—offers grants to schools interested in providing additional physical activity time to students. The sessions are free to the students and their families and are run by parent and staff volunteers.

At St. Anthony Park, school nurse Rebecca Patient, physical education teacher Karen Paulsen and music teacher Brad Ollmann are joined by parent volunteers Ray Noble, Chris Martineau, Chris Murray and Danielle Prasch to lead more than 60 students in supervised play and activities every Thursday morning before school. The group meets at 7:30 a.m. and engages in running, games and special skills. The morning includes a short talk about nutrition. While BOKS suggests a curriculum, each school can adjust their program to fit their needs.

The St. Anthony Park program began last fall and is proving to be a great success.

“My son’s teacher has already noticed that he has more energy on BOKS days,” Jenny Martineau said. “While the BOKS Program can be held at any time, the morning is ideal because the physical activity promotes delivery of oxygen to the brain to help kids study. They are more energetic and have better focus all day long.”

Initially, the St. Anthony Park program was limited to 50 students, but interest was high and thanks to plenty of parent and staff volunteers, 64 students are now able to attend.

“It’s been especially nice to have the school nurse at the sessions because the trainers don’t have to worry about which kid has asthma or other health issues, so all the kids can participate,” Martineau said.

While BOKS provides the curriculum for free, the grant St. Anthony Park received has gone toward additional supplies, copying costs and rental of the Langford Park Rec Center while the school gym was occupied with gymnastics equipment for a month. According to BOKS, the grant can also go toward supplemental equipment and payment for the trainers’ time if the school chose to run the program that way. The one-time grant is available only the first year, but costs for running the program greatly decrease after the first session since supplies and copies have already been purchased, making the program sustainable as long as volunteer resources are available.

“As a part of the grant, BOKS wants us to come up with a plan to keep it sustainable and we don’t foresee a problem in doing this again next year,” Martineau said. “We can keep it sustainable as long as we have Discovery Club’s [the school district’s extended daycare] permission to use the gym in mornings and as long as we have enough volunteers. The program dictates that we must have one staff volunteer, which I do not think will be a problem.

“This is the first year, but so far the program has been so wellreceived,” she added. “We have gotten good feedback from parents saying their kids are now reading nutritional labels at home.”

Carolyn Witt, the mother of a second-grader, is impressed with what the program has done for her son in such a short time. “I cannot say enough about the positive aspects of this program, and those that lead it,” Witt said.

“My son is learning healthy habits at such a critical time. The program supports the habits that I, as a parent, try so hard to instill, and it means the world that these habits are being reinforced by the teachers that he loves,” she said. “Our kids are active creatures who can potentially grow into stagnant adults, but we have a chance to influence that at a critical time in their lives.”

Music teacher and BOK volunteer Ollmann, agreed. “I was very impressed with the types of activities that were introduced,” he said. “I particularly liked the stations, which taught exercises that effectively work core muscles yet simple enough that kids could do them at home.

“I did all the activities with the students, and as I went through my teaching day, I noticed I was more energetic and alert. I have to believe that this before-school exercise had the same impact on the many student participants.”

Martineau is grateful for the support the program has received from the school and families and is confident in the program’s future.

“We got really lucky with our volunteers. They are really great with the kids and keep them engaged,” she said. “The kids are so wellbehaved and the staff is amazing.”

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