In Shape with a Before School Fitness Program

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Students at one elementary school are getting in shape with a before school fitness program as soon as they get off the bus.   

At South Elementary School in Bellingham Massachussetts, as students exit their buses, they trot to the gym for an hour of activity, with calisthenics, including squat thrusts known as burpees, and concluding with rousing playground games like “toilet tag,” and lessons on nutrition.

Through the Hockomock area YMCA’s “Healthy Future Initiative,” the school has adopted the “BOKS” program. The before-school program, created and supported by the Reebok Foundation, gives kids the sustained period of physical activity they need but don’t often get, said Kimberly Cohen, senior director of health and wellness at the Y’s Franklin branch.

Cohen said the model for the program is such that anyone can run it. In Bellingham, the Y has enlisted 32 parents to lead the program each morning at Stall Brook Elementary School and South Elementary. BOKS will launch at Clara Macy Elementary School in the spring.

As with all Y health initiatives, the BOKS program has two fundamental goals: help children move more and eat better. The latter has come about through the Bellingham Public Schools food services department, which has added a healthy breakfast program for elementary school students. After running and jumping around for an hour, most of the students file into the cafeteria for breakfast, then scamper to class.

“Our breakfast program has been a success across the board,” said food services director Jeanne Sheridan.

In Shape with a Before School Fitness Program

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By the time the kids have had their breakfast, Cohen said, they have the energy they’ll need to meet the day.

“We’ve seen improved academic success for the kids who are able to move in the beginning of the day,” she said, adding that teachers say they see more focused students.

The local Y’s efforts model the broader Let’s Move campaign, a nationwide movement championed by First Lady Michelle Obama to reduce childhood obesity through the promotion of physical activity and sound nutrition.

Since 2004, the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children has declined by 43 percent, according to new research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study, however, found no significant changes in obesity among older youth and adults over the past decade.

Programs like BOKS fill a gap in physical activity and nutritional education, said Sheridan.

“Ten years ago we had home economics classes and nutrition lessons at all of the grade levels,” she said. “It all has to do with time and learning. If you’re an administrator and you have to get that 990 (instructional) hours in, and PE isn’t counting to that, you’re going to give that up.”

At South, students take physical education only once per week

Read more about breakfast program in schools

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In Shape with a Before School Fitness Program

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