Tue, 10 Jun 2016

Being one of IHT’s newer partners hasn’t kept IDEA Public Schools from establishing some lofty goals for itself. Then again, for a school system that aims to – and does – send 100 percent of its high school graduates to college, aiming high is hardly unexpected.“We’ve got a lot of work to do, figuring out the assessments and how we’re going to use this not just for the students but for the staff as we maintain our goal to be the healthiest district in the state, the region and obviously in the nation,” said Eren Kirksey, IDEA’s curriculum director.

Part of the PE fabric

IDEA curriculum director Eren Kirksey (right) with IHT's Jen OhlsonIDEA’s network includes 44 schools housed on 22 campuses throughout the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and Austin. Beginning this fall, each IDEA school will utilize the IHT Spirit System with the new IHT Zone wrist-worn heart rate monitors as the heart of its physical education program.

“We’re honored that IDEA has integrated IHT into every one of their campuses as an integral part of their physical education strategy,” said IHT president Jen Ohlson. “With the Spirit System’s data collection and reporting capabilities, we look forward to help strengthen every effort IDEA and their teachers make, from individual student data, to fitness assessments, to linking PE to academic performance from K-12.”

After a pilot program at two schools, IDEA eagerly expanded the IHT Spirit System across its network.

“We are looking forward to a very exciting first year with the implementation,” Kirksey, whose background includes teaching PE, said. “Our preparation pertains to making sure that our staff is equipped and knowledgeable of the system and its functions, ready and willing to be able to have a great time in class and give their kids a true evaluation of assessment.”

Success at the two pilot campuses in the Rio Grande Valley – IDEA San Juan and IDEA San Benito –justified the decision to implement IHT’s Spirit System district-wide. At San Benito, students across three PE classes spent at least 74 percent of their workout time in the optimal heart rate zones.

“Those programs were so successful that Eren could go to his administrators and show them what they are trying to create and now they are going to implement the program across every IDEA school,” Ohlson said after working closely with Kirksey throughout the process.

Data-driven results

Each IDEA location includes an academy (primary or elementary school) and a college prep (secondary) campus. Teachers at both will integrate the IHT Spirit System as the PE curriculum. They will use the monitors and the data they provide to drive the program.

“We can get a truly accurate, data-driven picture of what these kids are and aren’t doing,” Kirksey said. “Hopefully help us build some direct correlations from the top down so they understand how important physical activity is to increasing their learning abilities in the classroom. As a data driven organization, I’m eager to give these kids responsibility, have them take ownership – not just for grade purposes but for their lifelong health and what they can do to better their education by being physically fit.”

The data that students and teachers automatically receive from the IHT Spirit System will be motivating on several fronts. First, teachers want students to understand how they are working so they learn when and how to push themselves.

“We’ve gotten them where they enjoy fitness,” said IDEA PE teacher Jermaine Brown. “Now, with the monitor being on their wrist, they can see it. I can see it and it gives us something we can show to the parent. For me, being the coach, I can go by the scholars and tell them ‘I know you say you’re running hard,’ but you’re still in the blue.’ I let them know I need them to work harder. I can tell them that ‘I need you in the yellow or red’ really quickly.”

Active students are successful students

Teachers also hope to use the data to prove that a direct correlation exists, as studies suggest, between physical health and academic success.

“Everybody needs a certain amount of minutes in physical education every week, not from a standpoint of state-wide but just to be smarter,” Brown said. “Studies have shown that the more active you are, the smarter you’re going to be in the classroom. This is a way we can get hard data about how long the students are active before they sit down.”

The data, Kirksey said, will tell all. It’s one of the things he likes best about the IHT Spirit System.

“We are all tainted with the need for data,” he said. “The data is what we use to take scores, figure out who goes to tutoring, who needs extra sessions . So why not use data to figure out who’s not as healthy as they could be and how we can make them healthier and then use that same data to directly correlate physical activity with the increase in their educational learning?”

Keeping up with each IDEA

IDEA is not set up like some of the more traditional school districts that utilize the IHT Spirit System. Most districts have all campuses located within just a few adjoining zip codes. Because IDEA campuses are spread out, the data accessibility is another key aspect.

“To have schools in McAllen, the valley, Weslaco, to have schools in San Antonio, to have schools in Austin and they will continue to grow their network into other states eventually,” Ohlson said, “makes them unique.”

Having the data at his fingertips in real time so he can monitor – from one location – progress in PE classes across IDEA’s expanding network of schools speaks to Kirksey as well.

“For me to be able to see what’s going on in San Antonio, in the Rio Grande Valley and possibly Las Vegas, Nev. or Baton Rouge, La. without having to travel thousands of miles, I love the ease of access and the functionality of it,” he said. “I can easily get on the phone and talk to a coach about the data from his second period class and ask what’s going on with the moderate to vigorous physical activity because it’s too low, and I don’t have to make a drive to do that.”

Kirksey’s already looking ahead to see where else he can implement the IHT Spirit System and enable more students to take charge of their own health.

“By 2018 I think we’ll have 60 campuses,” he said. “The IHT Spirit System will do what we need it to do for the masses, for all of our campuses and the populations that we serve.”