Fit to Learn Helps Teachers Bring Health and Wellness into the Classroom

August 12, 2015

Abby Rose, a school wellness specialist at Chicago Public Schools, stood in front of a group of teachers last week holding a folded-over ribbon. When she wiggled the ribbon’s left side, all the teachers wiggled their left legs. When she jerked the ribbon upwards, all the teachers jumped.

Rose was demonstrating a physical activity break, a simple and easy activity that teachers can incorporate into their school days to help energize and refocus their students. Rose was one of the expert speakers who presented as part of a full-day training for Healthy Schools Campaign’s Fit to Learn program.

Fit to Learn is a professional development program focused on practical approaches to make health and wellness a regular part of the classroom experience. The training spotlights ways to incorporate healthy habits into daily learning, integrating nutrition education and fitness into classroom lessons that meet standards in math, reading, science, social studies, art and music.

“Our objective is to make healthy habits a routine part of how kids learn,” said Rosa Ramirez Richter, HSC’s senior manager for Chicago programs and policy. “Fit to learn is about bringing together teachers and equipping them with the skills and resources to change the way we think about wellness in the classroom, one simple shift at a time.”

But the training isn’t just about teaching practical physical activities that teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans. The day starts by laying the foundation for why healthy students are better learners with hard data and scientific studies.

Dr. Sarah Buck, associate professor at Chicago State University, showed the attendees studies that demonstrate increased brain activity in physically fit students compared to students that aren’t physically fit. Not only are their brains more active, but their task completion is always better after physical activity, meaning that students are able to answer questions faster and more accurately.

Having that data really helps when the teachers go back to their schools, said Gila Hernandez, a third-grade teacher at Orozco Elementary School. “Everything we do is data-driven, so seeing the science behind the benefit of physical activity in the classroom really helps get the principal on board,” said Hernandez, who has taught at Orozco for 23 years.

Kevin Lynch, a third-grade teacher at Andrew Jackson Language Academy, said he can see his students become less engaged after they’ve been sitting for a long time. “I’ve noticed that when they have the chance to get up and be active, they’re much more engaged and want to learn,” he said. “When kids are engaged, there’s a lot more learning that happens in the classroom.”

The day-long summer session jumpstarts a full year of activities and workshops, where teachers will learn everything from how to start a school garden to how to incorporate physical activity into their existing lesson plans.
Contact Kristi Cox or Rosa Ramirez Richter to learn more.