It's not even 8 a.m. yet, but on this Tuesday morning at Anthony Elementary School in Anthony, Kan., the gym is already full of activity.
Basketballs arch toward the goals set up throughout the gym. Volleyballs are struck and footballs are thrown. In one corner, a large group of students dance to music playing over the speakers while, in another, students practice their balance on Indo Boards. Some of the younger students are even utilizing the school's climbing wall.
Regardless of the activity, the gym is full of the noises you'd expect from hundreds of students ranging in age from kindergarten to eighth grade.
To some, these sounds might indicate a unique form of controlled chaos, but to Jason Busche, the school's physical education teacher, the sounds are nothing short of music to his ears.
"It means they're being active, running around, having fun," Busche says. "And most of all, it means they're not sitting around, they're up and moving."
Movement is at the heart of the Let's Move in Kansas Schools (LMIKS) initiative, a state-level effort modeled after the federal Let's Move in Schools program championed by the National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD).
"Kansas is the first state to implement its own state-level Let's Move in Schools program," said Rhonda Holt, co-project director for LMIKS. "We have the opportunity to be a model for the nation in terms of the programs and activities in our schools, and the opportunities available to physical education instructors for training and certification."
LMIKS is a two-year initiative funded by the Kansas Health Foundation to provide training for up to 200 physical education instructors throughout the state. The overarching goal is to ensure that every school delivers a comprehensive physical activity program with quality physical education as the foundation so that youth will develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to be physically active for a lifetime.
The initiative is a collaborative between NASPE, Kansas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD), and Healthy Kansas Schools (HKS), and is designed to facilitate youth activity before, during and after school to help children reach the 60 minutes of recommended physical activity each day.
In Anthony, Busche administers "Terrific Fit Tuesdays" as one example of a before-school program.
"Used to be that the students would just come in the gym before school and sit around the edges, but it just seemed like we should let them do something," Busche said. "It started when I put some basketballs out and a few kids got up to play, and from there it's just evolved into a chance for everyone to participate and everyone to move."
At Eisenhower Elementary School in Norton, Kan., Joan Bolt has led the charge to link physical activity to classroom learning and even used it as an incentive for academic performance.
In collaboration with classroom teachers, Bolt designed the Read to Play program, which allows students to earn tokens based on the number of books they read through the Accelerated Reader program. These tokens can then be turned in to Bolt in exchange for morning activity periods.
"Improving reading – both comprehension and skills – is always a focus of school districts, and with Let's Move in Kansas Schools, the focus is increasing students' daily activity time," Bolt said. "This was a way to combine those efforts, and at the same time, add some fun elements to both reading and physical activity."
In addition to the tokens, students who reach higher Accelerated Reader tiers earn extra PE class periods at the end of each grading period. Further recognition and reward was given to the top-performing student in each grade – as well as 14 other students selected via drawing – in the form of an off-campus activity to celebrate their accomplishments. Last year, the activity was a bowling outing, which proved exciting for the students and served as a way to promote the Read to Play efforts to the broader community.
According to Bolt, the program has been a hit with students and teachers alike. The results speak for themselves in terms of participation during Eisenhower's first year of the program, as 98 percent of all students in first through sixth grades earned at least one extra PE class period.
"The students have embraced it, the teachers are on board, and the administration has been especially supportive," Bolt said. "So often, students are rewarded with candy or treats. Through this program, we're finding a different way to reward them, and doing it in a way that will benefit them physically and academically."
Much of the focus with LMIKS is on students, but the program also leads into broader school wellness issues. At several school districts throughout Kansas, this has led to active and intentional efforts by teachers and staff members to increase their efforts regarding healthy behaviors.
During the past year, Michelle DiLisio, physical education teacher at Chanute High School in Chanute, Kan., has spearheaded an effort in her school district to involve faculty and staff members in a wellness program. The most popular efforts so far have been the monthly activity times.
"We've been able to do a variety of activities, and each time, we draw different groups of staff members," DiLisio said. "Some of them might already like to exercise, while for others, it's a big step to spend part of a day being physically active. That's why we've tried to find activities that could appeal to everyone."
From yoga and Pilates classes to bowling and badminton, DiLisio said staff members have embraced the efforts and have offered their own ideas for the program. One of the most popular activities was a Saturday outing to nearby Elk City Lake, where staff members and their families participated in hiking, kayaking and other ways to enjoy the outdoors.
According to DiLisio, the staff wellness efforts have played a key role in making teachers aware of health and wellness resources that they can then use in their classroom with their students.
The wide variety of efforts going on throughout the state doesn't surprise Holt. She believes these efforts are indicative of the comprehensive design of the LMIKS program, as well as the passion of the state's physical education instructors.
"This process has confirmed my belief that we have deeply committed and outstanding instructors in Kansas who are willing to go above and beyond what is expected," she said. "In just looking at the different programs in the school districts throughout the state, you can see how these instructors have worked to find activities that address the needs of their individual schools and communities."
Busche thinks this initiative is just the beginning, and that schools and communities can continue to develop new ideas and programs to keep kids active.
"I really believe kids want to be active and want to move," he said. "The more people that get involved to give them those opportunities, the faster the movement will spread."
It's this type of thinking that has Holt so encouraged about the future.
"What we really want to see, a few years down the line, is a complete shift in the school culture when it comes to physical activity," she said. "We want physical activity before, during and after school to be the norm, not the exception."