Healthier MO

Exercising the brain: Educators work to improve grades through physical activity
Posted on 01/29/2013

Researchers studying the relationship between good health and academic success continue to fund projects Poplar Bluff R-I educators are coming up with to increase the physical activity of students.

The Healthy Living Club at Poplar Bluff High School was awarded $2,500 this month, its second grant through Healthier MO Communities, so club sponsors can purchase additional exercise equipment and bring in more specialists like dietitians.

The partnership between the school district and Healthier MO began last school year as a pilot program for establishing best practices to implement in schools within the coalition’s service area.

“The research out there doesn’t include a lot of rural areas—there’s a gap—so we figured, rather than spread our limited resources to 12 counties, we would saturate one district and then spend time to create guidelines that we can share with the other school districts,” explained Amy Estlund, co-manager of the Prevention Research Center in St. Louis. “The faculty and staff are the ones driving this and coming up with the interventions.”

Having awarded nearly $17,000 to Poplar Bluff Schools, with more classroom ventures under consideration, Healthier MO is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administered by the PRC. The Butler County Community Resource Council acts as the fiscal agent.

“We want to improve the lives of children and families in Butler County, and this is a really neat way to get kids active and excited about doing things,” said Karen Crook, CRC executive director. “In the economy that we’re in now, the school district just doesn’t have the discretionary money to spend, so you have to seek out these funding sources.”

Crook, who serves on the Healthier MO advisory board, helped bring in internationally renowned health expert Jean Blaydes Madigan to Three Rivers College in late 2011. From that workshop and an initial $1,500 from Healthier MO, participants Charley Harper and Debbie McFadden, PBHS Spanish teachers, started the Healthy Living Club for High School students and staff. Activities of the club include weekly yoga and Zumba classes, and monthly speakers who have covered nutrition topics such as food journaling, reading labels, healthy recipes and working out while watching TV.

“Every year we seem to see our health care problems grow among students, and we’re looking to do everything we can to offset that trend,” said Sheryl Talkington, R-I health & drug free coordinator, who wrote the grant for the club.

Earlier this school year, Healthier MO provided $12,000 to Lake Road Elementary to help fund a playground designed to develop upper body strength in children. The obstacle course features a rock climbing wall, rope net, jumping pods and pull-up bars, allowing for more structured recesses with exercise.

Last school year, Healthier MO granted over $900 to Eugene Field Elementary to implement Brain Breaks – momentary activities in the classroom designed to cross the mid-line of the body which helps both sides of the brain engage so students remain energized for learning. Supplies include program literature, dice and exercise balls to replace chairs for students experiencing “a case of the wiggles,” according to third grade teacher Mary Tolliver.

“I’ve found that when we do these little mini-breaks throughout class, especially on test days, [students] stay on task, and we don’t have as many behavioral problems,” Tolliver stated. “It increases their ability to answer questions right and in turn get better scores. We’ve seen enough results that I can say this with confidence.”


Cutline: PBHS students [front to back] Shaquan White, Ridge Hester, Michael Young and Matthew Dowd of the Healthy Living Club practice yoga with teacher Charley Harper [right].

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