School may be out for the summer, but physical education teachers from around the state are using the break to be trained in the Kansas Fitness Information Tracking (K-FIT) program, a project that helps measure and improve students' fitness levels. Currently, personnel in more than 120 school buildings throughout the state have received K-FIT training, with a goal of reaching 900 schools within three years.
K-FIT, made possible in Kansas through a $1.28 million grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, is an overall health assessment tool that uses a series of tests to measure students' aerobic capacity, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. After completing the testing, students are able to receive feedback on where they are fitness-wise and what they can do to improve their health and fitness.
A key component of the program is not grading students on a "pass or fail" basis. Rather, students are shown where they are compared to the program's Healthy Fitness Zones. Testing is completed for students in the fifth, seventh and ninth grades, which gives the students an opportunity to see their improvement as they move from grade school, to middle school, and into high school.
"The feedback the students receive may be the first time someone has helped them understand an appropriate level of physical activity," said Mark Thompson, project director for Kansas Coordinated School Health (KCSH). "This will hopefully lead them to want to improve their health over the years."
At a recent training in Deerfield, 15 physical education teachers became students themselves as they participated in the K-FIT tests to better understand how to administer them in their own schools. According to Jane Shirley, KCSH program manager, the trainings also present an opportunity for the teachers to share their own expertise on how to enrich the K-FIT process.
"We've been very pleased with how those participating in the trainings have brought their own ideas about how to do the testing given limited class times and other challenges all the teachers face," Shirley said. "They are sharing ideas with each other on how to ensure quality results, while at the same time being excited and enthusiastic about the importance of this program for their students."
In addition to the direct benefits for the students, the data gathered during the testing will also be of benefit to the schools and the state as a whole. All data though with students names removed for privacy reasons will be shared with the state and, long-term, Kansas leaders will be able to see the fitness data compared with academic indicators.
"We have always believed that physical fitness plays a critical role in the academic environment, as healthier, more physically active students would perform better in the classroom," Thompson said. "For the first time, we'll actually be able to test that and have the data to back it up."
In the meantime, it's hoped that K-FIT will improve children's fitness levels and foster positive attitudes among the students toward physical activity. "We want Kansas children to lead long, healthy lives," said Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation. "Getting young people into the habit of physical activity will improve their chances of becoming fit and healthy adults."