It is 10 minutes until lunch, and kids in Theresa Corry’s second-grade class are voting for what kind of exercises they want to do.
On this day at Bracken Elementary School, 1200 N. 27th St., they vote for leg exercises. Corry plays an exercise video on her iPad that is projected onto the white board. Students lie on their sides, lifting their left legs in a scissors motion. Right legs follow. Kids soon seemed to regret their votes as they felt the burn.
Cries of “uhhh” and “ahhh” drowned the room.
They were relieved when Corry suggested they switch to Pilates.
Every class at Bracken does 10 minutes of exercise before lunch. It can be any kind of physical activity — yoga, dancing, Simon Says — and it has to be done every day.
It is one of the changes implemented this school year that helped Bracken earn national recognition from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, which honored the school last month for promoting fitness and health among students and staff members.
In most elementary schools, students have a 15-minute recess, eat lunch and go to class. Bracken sandwiches lunch between a 10-minute classroom activity and playground time.
“They think kids should play first and they’ll eat more,” Decker said. “It’s not really the best strategy. We all know after you eat, if you go sit in a classroom, tryptophan kicks in.”
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey and other foods that helps the body produce serotonin.
The school also replaced a traditional student reward system — pizza with the principal — with special lunchtime activities with one of the teachers. Students may get to do art, music or physical education activities.
“We really changed our culture here,” principal Kathleen Decker said. “We used to use food as a reward. Students know that food is a nutritional thing, not a reward or a treat.”
The school has brought in specialists to give healthy cooking demonstrations for students. A few times each year, the school is able to offer a fruit and salad bar at lunch.
On Valentine’s Day, Bracken parents were asked to buy fruits and vegetables for classes instead of candy.
“Some of the parents say we’re health nuts now, but it’s all good,” Decker said.
The school has gardens that produce radishes, mint, parsley and more, which students get the opportunity to sample.
The school received a grant last school year from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce childhood obesity.
With the money they purchased pedometers for staff members and students to use before, during and after school, when they are encouraged to walk around the school’s field.
Physical education teacher Jeff Muehleisen is the former project facilitator for physical education for kindergarten through 12th grade for the Clark County School District.
He wrote the curriculum, trained teachers and has visited every school in the district to observe P.E. classes. His teaching style fits in with the school’s healthy approach.
“It’s more rigorous than a lot of schools,” Muehleisen said. “The focus is getting them going as soon as they’re here. I don’t want them to have any down time. We try to transition quickly from activity to activity.”
Decker said she hopes these healthy habits will make a long-term impression on her students.
“They start to form those ideas when they’re children in elementary school,” Decker said. “To continue to use food as a reward, to continue to focus on sedentary activity, is not good for their futures.”
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at email@example.com or 224-5524.