HYPE students perform during their showcase at St. Simon Stock School in New York. Photos courtesy of Hip Hop Public Health.

June 12, 2017 – Students participating in a pilot program known as HYPE (Hip Hop Youth and Physical Education) showed improved fitness and increased confidence along with an understanding of how heart rate relates to fitness. HYPE wrapped up with a June 6 showcase at St. Simon Stock School in The Bronx, where the students performed alongside legendary musician Doug E. Fresh, a Hip Hop Public Health board member.

Hip Hop Public Health created HYPE with support from Beat Global, Columbia University Medical Center, Home Box Office, and Interactive Health Technologies. HYPE provided students who lack time for physical education at school with a chance to improve their fitness — and overall health — through an afterschool program built around dance and heart rate data analysis.

“We wanted to teach the essence of the Hip Hop culture and the value of moving,” said Dana Austin, one of the founding members of Hip Hop Public Health and a director/producer at Home Box Office. “We want the students to make a lifestyle change by giving them the tools to incorporate dance as a form of exercise.”


Hip hop artist Doug E. Fresh leads HYPE students and classmates in a dance during the June 6 showcase.

The performance in front of participants’ friends and families allowed students to show how they improved many aspects of their personal health including fitness and confidence in addition to the specific dance skills they showcased.

“We can already see the impact this has had on the lives of the kids and their families,” said St. Simon Stock Principal Kinsley Jabouin. “The students are now more vocal learners when it comes to health.”

Meeting a Need

The HYPE program fit particularly well with St. Simon Stock because that part of the city doesn’t afford many afterschool opportunities for students, and school time spent in physical education consisted of a 30-minute session just once a week. The twice-a-week, 90-minute sessions gave the students an organized platform to exercise.

“The HYPE program pretty much was these students’ PE program,” WaAak One, the Beat Global Beat Breakers Lead Instructor, said. “It was hard work and when we started out, the kids were surprisingly out of shape. They really didn’t do anything active over the weekends. They played video games with friends online or texted or used Twitter. It was rare to hear about kids being active.”

Through the Beat Global dance program, students jumped directly into a rigorous exercise program that incorporated fitness elements with specific dance skills including Top Rocking, 6 Step and Freeze, said Beat Global Executive Director James Kim.

“With Top Rocking and 6 Step, there’s a lot of footwork involved, so that is a form of calisthenics exercise,” Kim said. “But when we Freeze, that’s more of a muscle isolation exercise, more strength training. We blended the knowledge so it becomes applicable and retainable, allowing the students to make connections that make sense.”

Students had a sense that they’d be getting a workout during the HYPE sessions, though they may not have expected to work as hard as they did.

“They didn’t know how much hard work this would be,” WaAak said. “When we started, we definitely had some moments where everyone was humbled.”

Engaging Heart Rate Data

Through the inclusion of the IHT ZONE wrist heart rate monitors, students learned to see exactly how hard they worked in each class and could see when they needed to up their effort or when they were working too hard, WaAaK noted. Students learned to identify target heart rate zones (as defined by color) and then strived to keep their heart rate in the moderate to vigorous zones, where their bodies benefited the most.

“As we moved through the program, they began asking for time to jog around the gym, and they would run looking at their monitors,” WaAaK said. “You could see them speed up or slow down based on what color they were seeing on the monitor.”

“Once they noticed the colors change, they became motivated by it,” said Madeleine Gordillo, one of the instructors along with Vanessa Sawyer and a researcher with Hip Hop Public Health and the Columbia University Medical Center’s Neurology Department. “They were able to track their progress based on the colors changing, and they were able to do their own performance analysis.”

The ability to analyze their own effort is a skill that will help them take ownership of their health as they move through life.

“The monitors were key because they helped us to see the importance of heart rate,” said Jabouin. “The devices helped show, with visual recognition, how hard they were working out. These are concepts that most kids don’t understand, and they learned it not by being lectured to but by seeing it in action. That is transformational.”

Healthy Habits Beyond Physical Fitness

Over the 12 weeks, the 17 HYPE program students demonstrated increased fitness levels but also showed improved social-emotional awareness and confidence as well.

“The physical and emotional development went hand in hand,” said Gordillio. “They became more extroverted and more comfortable in their own skin . The peer approval was important to them. They stopped looking at WaAaK to see if they were doing the moves correctly and started looking to each other. They grew as a team, constantly encouraging one another.”

One student – eighth grader Ernie Vasquez – said he developed the strength to persevere through difficult circumstances.

“Before this program, I would usually just give up , thinking I just can’t do them,” he said. “But after this program, I think I can do things. I’m courageous now.”

HYPE students show off their afterschool program diplomas alongside teachers, HYPE organizers and sponsors

While WaAak and Gordillo saw students during every HYPE session, others who saw students during the school day noticed how the program had changed them for the better as well, including Jabouin. The principal witnessed students talking with classmates about how to make healthier food choices and heard from parents about how students are encouraging family members to be healthier and more active.

“These students are becoming agents of change, transforming their entire family’s view of health and well-being,” Jabouin said. “Anyone these students came in contact with, they talked about making better choices and having conversations about health and well-being. Without this program, these changes wouldn’t have happened.”

Analyzing the results

Students went through pre- and post-HYPE fitness evaluations led by Myke Murray, the fitness center manager at HBO. Murray, who holds a degree in exercise science, implemented elements of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program — among them the PACER, curl-up and push-up tests — to establish improvements in each student’s fitness profile.

“The students have a better understanding of what it takes to exercise and that exercise can come in a variety of forms,” Murray said. “I think they enjoyed the dancing because it doesn’t really feel like working out. The dancing incorporated a lot of basic fitness skill and we could really see the dancing make a difference in their fitness.”

The lessons, both fitness and dance, left their mark. The participating students who will return to St. Simon Stock next year are already eager to continue with the program.

“When I first joined the program, I thought this might not be for me,” said seventh-grader Zykerial Hill. “But over time, I realized I was loving this program and I can’t wait to come back next year.”

Hill’s newfound passion for dance and fitness validated what the program hoped to accomplish.

“If you can make a child happy with success, you can impact them in lots of ways,” Gordillo said. “A program like this is key to help kids change important behaviors.”