Originally published Nov. 7, 2022 by Chico State Today.
By Andrew Staples
On a late October morning at Paradise Ridge Elementary School, the whole campus leans into Halloween. That includes Katie Rusten’s (Liberal Studies ’04; Credential ’08) physical education classes. Fifth graders Calie Bettencourt and Zooey Shaver enjoy tossing Hula-Hoops onto witches’ hats. Their classmate, Blaise Parr, delights in balancing little plastic eyeballs on foam rackets while weaving through cones.
Equipped with a headset and PA system, Rusten shifts enthusiastic students from station to station on the blacktop.
The smiles and enthusiasm that Bettencourt, Shaver, and Parr show for PE and recess belie the immense challenges these students have overcome—in and out of the classroom. Their scholastic careers were upended by the Camp Fire in 2018 and they all spent time at different schools throughout the county in its aftermath. When Paradise Ridge opened in 2021, they enrolled and unanimously say PE class is better and more fun here.
“The school I went to in Oroville had regular PE. Here it is longer and more fun,” said Parr.
That’s exactly what kinesiology professor Cathrine Himberg (MA, Physical Education, ’92) imagined for them when she launched PARADISE U (Physical Activity Reduces Anxiety and Depression, Improves the Stress-response and Energizes U) in 2019. Through decades of research, Himberg has long connected movement to overall wellness and was confident an immersive physical education program could do wonders for youth affected by the Camp Fire or just dealing with the stressors of everyday life.
“Physical education classes, as well as active movement, are so important to everyone,” she said. “Movement creates happy molecules, which make you feel better, more courageous, and more resilient. It also literally expands the number of brain cells in your head, so students become better learners when they have an active lifestyle.”