The Positive Effect of Physical Fitness and Self-Care in a Dynamic School Community

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, which means it’s time to celebrate physical fitness and how it can transform the classroom experience. Physical fitness promotes teamwork, healthy living and optimism for young learners.

Students practicing mindfulness. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Students practicing mindfulness. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

As a spring intern here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), I was recently given the chance to accompany ED staff during a trip to the Brightwood Education Campus in Washington, D.C., where the entire community is dedicated to the mission of mind and body wellness. Students in all grades learn coordinated exercises designed to stimulate their bodies and their brains. Students at Brightwood come from many different cultural backgrounds and many of them are English-language learners – and the emphasis on exercise and mental health awareness is just one of the many tools educators use to promote diversity.

During my visit to Brightwood, I saw students leading group stretches with their peers, “tapping” out their stress and taking time to walk around the room to improve their circulation. In a pre-K classroom, the students sat in a circle while one student led the exercises. While they sang traditional songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” they would do the exercises in sync. The students had just woken up from nap time, so these exercises were intended to reactivate their brains and keep their focus in the classroom. The peer-influence is great to see first-hand because when one student would get off task, their friends would help them get back into the activities. After the exercises the students had a chance to sit up tall, close their eyes, and breathe in unison. Beyond just physical fitness, students and teachers participated in meditation and stretching in order to ease their minds and connect with other people around them.

I spoke with Kalpana Kumar-Sharma, a pre-K teacher who began this initiative. She explained that she started by talking to parents and students one-by-one about the importance of health and offering them individual exercises and diet changes. She then said she was able to expand her ideas about physical fitness and mindfulness throughout the school because of the one-by-one conversations.

The emphasis on mind and body awareness at Brightwood has changed the school culture for the better. Parents, students, and staff are all invested in their own personal health and development and, in turn, they are better to their peers. Having a common mission of health and wellness allows the community to break down cultural barriers and engage in a discussion about an issue that affects everyone. While students are becoming healthier, teachers are also a major part in getting healthier as well. Teachers complete the exercises right alongside their students. Teachers and students working toward common personal goals allow for a better connection and communication. Planting the seed of healthy living at an early age will allow the students to feel more supported as their lives become more stressful both academically and personally.

ED intern Brett Swanson (third from right) during her visit to Brightwood. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ED intern Brett Swanson (third from right) during her visit to Brightwood. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

It was such an amazing experience to visit a school that puts mental and physical health first and to witness a part of its rich and inviting culture.

Brett Swanson is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education and a Junior at George Washington University.

4 Comments

  1. I love this approach to learning and teaching. The school’s environment promotes independence and cooperation through student-led exercises. Students learn to take breaks during the day so that they can return to the task refreshened and focused. The exercises promote introspection as well — taking time out to focus on feelings.
    I taught high school, and one of the things that I did was build in thinking time during discussions. Read a particularly complex line (or stanza) of a poem and then think about it for two minutes. Silence. I model “thinking” by putting finger to my head. Walk around the room. Ask random students for a response to the line/stanza. Ask other students for response to first student’s comments. Put in my 5 cents’ worth. Summarize/Synthesize. I believe that building in quiet time focused on actively thinking or focusing would improve student learning/insight.

  2. Physical Education without a doubt is extremely important to the well – being of students in the academic environment whether it’s K – 12 or undergraduate or graduate degree programs. The human body needs motion in order to function in the world. The brain is the main organ to benefit as the entire body and the limbs are generating and receiving information to support maximum human potential. Structured Physical Education Programs with skilled teachers licensed in Physical Education or Dance and Dance Education needs to be re-examined. As an observer with a K – 12 licensure in Dance and Dance Education (see “PS Dance” on pbs.org), I am concerned that students are making inappropriate choices to bring to the movement experience that devalues the objective of a movement class. Movements such as “twerking” and “booty shaking” and “fan kicks that expose the crotch” to the audience may have their place, but not for a K – 12 movement curriculum in an academic setting. Teachers who allow students to engage in the provocative connotation of these movements may reduce the resistant behavior in their classrooms to win the cooperation of their students, but they are defaming the integrity of their movement programs and the dignity and character of their participants. Administrators with the knowledge and experience in these areas could create multi-faceted movement programs with Teacher Instructional Pedagogy that elevates the respect for structured Physical Education or Dance and Dance Education Programs. In Service Teachers who devote themselves to the pedagogy of the instruction, can shape the participant’s character development and physical and mental wellness for college and career pursuits as life long advocates for movement programs. “Structured Movement for Every Child” within an appropriate vernacular for the academic setting can explore, discover, share and interpret oneself to the world in order to enhance the human potential for a high level of human achievement.

  3. Meaningful and high quality physical exercise not only exercises the body but the mind as well. It will help us fight inactivity and obesity among our young people. Schools should also come up with dietary lessons for the students

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