Originally published Oct. 29, 2019 in the Newton Daily News.

By Christopher Braunschweig

More than 250 heart rate monitors will be bought by the Newton Community School District to promote good health among students in all campuses.

After some discussion Monday night, the NCSD Board of Education unanimously approved the $31,852 purchase, which will use a mixture of federal grant and general fund dollars to pay for the devices. Currently, the school district owns about 30 heart rate monitors at Berg Middle School.

Eric VanderVelden, a P.E. teacher at Aurora Heights and Emerson Hough Elementary Schools, and Bret Miller, director of teaching and learning, speak to school board members about the proposed purchase of 250 heart rate monitors for educational and health use at Newton Community School District campuses. The board unanimously approved the $31,852 purchase. Christopher Braunschweig/Daily News

Bret Miller, director of teaching and learning, was approached by a couple of the district’s physical education teachers with an idea to expand the use of heart rate monitors. Studies reported school districts are using heart rate monitors district-wide to promote health and the academic benefits from physical activity, he said.

“We had a couple P.E. teachers come and say, ‘Hey, we think this would be a good idea.’ Over the summer, we started scheduling times because there are multiple companies that do have the heart rate monitors but they have different technologies that go with it,” Miller added.

According to school board agenda documents, the district acquired quotes from several different companies. Heart Tech Plus offered a less expensive overall price tag and included a charging station, but did not come with P.E. Standards. Polar devices cost slightly more but did not include charging stations or P.E. Standards.

Ultimately, the Newton school district settled on devices from Interactive Health Technology (IHT) for a little more than $31,000. Included in the package were 120 regular-size wrist strap heart rate monitors and 130 large-size wrist strap heart rate monitors.

“We wanted something that would allow us to truly determine the level of physical activity that kids had in class, knowing that depending on what shape people are in that could look very, very differently,” Miller said. “… There are kids that are going to be working very hard, but we just don’t see it.”

P.E. teachers want to reward students for their efforts and physical activity, but “a judgement call is no longer good enough,” Miller said. The heart rate monitors would provide accurate data for not only the teachers to grade but also “get that data in the kids’ hands so they can learn more about” their target heart rate.

Eric VanderVelden, a P.E. teacher at Aurora Heights and Emerson Hough Elementary Schools, has always wanted heart rate monitors for his classes to better measure or gauge physical activity, which he suggested can be difficult to judge for both athletic and non-athletic kids.

“Their heart rate monitors are going to tell them when they’re working hard enough, and we can’t determine that by just looking at them,” VanderVelden said.

When used at the elementary schools, VanderVelden said the heart rate monitors would be exclusive to fourth graders in order to introduce them to the devices before use at the middle school.

“By the time they get to fifth grade, they know how to use them,” VanderVelden said. “It’s going to take maybe a couple years to get this going, but all the P.E. teachers are excited about this opportunity.”

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