Prineville elementary teacher helps students get in shape

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: November 01. 2006 5:00AM PST

Gym class traditionally involves organized games of soccer and dodgeball. But recently at Cecil Sly Elementary School, a group of fifth-graders lay on their stomachs on the mats, lifting their heads up and barking like seals.

The class was one of several participating in a fitness testing program that is being held for the next few weeks. In the trunk-lift exercise, students measured the strength and flexibility of their backs by lying facedown and arching upward as far as possible.

The barking was not an official part of the curriculum.

Nationwide, the debate over childhood obesity and fitness continues to be a source of concern for physicians, teachers and parents. At Cecil Sly Elementary School in Prineville, physical education teacher Claudia Callan has made it her goal to instill an interest in exercise and healthy lifestyles in her students.

Twice a year, Callan’s students participate in testing through Fitnessgram, a private program for assessing and recording physical activity.

Callan has worked at Cecil Sly for 11 years and started using the Fitnessgram program 10 years ago, which means that most of the school’s students have done the testing every year since first grade.

The students’ results are recorded and sent home in their school portfolios at the end of the year, but Callan said that the children do not receive a grade.

An important component of the program is encouraging students to spend more time playing and exercising outdoors when they are not in school.

“It’s not a competitive thing, (the results) should be private,” Callan said. “I’m trying to encourage a lifetime awareness and importance of their physical fitness.”

The testing includes a range of physical activities – such as curl-ups, push-ups, sprints and flexibility – as well as body mass index, a measure of a person’s weight in relation to height. Callan said, even though many students participate in after-school sports programs, she thinks that children are becoming more sedentary.

“I think there’s probably more kids that are sitting around doing computers (and) PlayStation than in the past,” she said.

Some of the students in her fifth-grade class agreed.

“I think people in our class watch too much TV when they’re at home,” Rebekah Campbell, 10, said. But, she added, “We’re very, very energetic.”

Laryssa Romero, 10, said that some students are “out of shape.” And Miles Richardson, 11, said that while many of his classmates spend a lot of time indoors, he thinks that “just sitting and watching TV isn’t that much fun.”

All of the fifth-graders interviewed said that they like doing the tests and think it’s important to exercise.

During the testing, students did push-ups and measured how far they could reach forward toward their toes while seated and lift their torsos up while lying on their bellies.

“When we do exercises like riding bikes and doing sports it can help us with our health and keeping us big and tall and strong,” Stephanie Gardner, 10, said.

J.C. Boyd, 10, said he counts himself as one of the people who spends a lot of time playing video games, but he also likes to play sports and thinks the Fitnessgram program is good for students.

“I think it’s very important because at our age we should try to learn it early,” Boyd said.

This year, Callan said, she had to limit the fitness testing to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students because of time restraints. Each class at Cecil Sly has two 35-minute gym periods a week, she said.

One new feature of the program this year is that the students will take home log sheets in which they will record their physical activity for six weeks.

Callan said she was surprised that many students’ endurance for running is low this year. She added that there has only been one time in the 10 years she has been running a program when a parent complained about their child feeling self-conscious during the activities.

“What’s more important than their actual score is that they’re aware that it’s important and they should do it for a lifetime and they develop a positive attitude toward exercise and fitness,” Callan said.

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