Originally published on Jan. 26, 2020 by KXAN-NBC Austin.
By Arezow Doost
One by one, students make their way across the gym. They huddle around a table set up in the corner.
Before they even begin stretching, they wait in line for their gear. It will be instrumental to how they perform on this Monday morning.
They each grab a heart rate monitor, scan it on a laptop and strap it to their wrists. It all happens within seconds.
As music blares through a nearby speaker, each student takes his or her position. One group runs drills another plays a game — all to get their heart rates up.
When a student’s heart rate speeds up, the color on the monitor changes. Blue tells students that their exercise is pretty easy — easy enough that they can talk and breathe comfortably. Yellow means it’s getting a little tougher and their heart rate is pumping, and red means they’ve hit a vigorous, all-out effort.
“It keeps me knowing where I’m going,” said 7th grader Kael Hatnot as he takes a minute to catch his breath. “If I need to, like, go more so I’m not just sitting there thinking that I’m working out when I’m not.”
IDEA Public Schools in Kyle is among a growing group of schools tracking students’ heart rates. It’s part of the charter school’s curriculum.
“It’s a game-changer for a PE teacher,” explained coach Nohemi Rojas. “I feel that the level of involvement — participation — with the kids has grown tremendously.”
Coach Rojas said her campus started with just a few monitors, and now the school has 50 which students share during PE.
The monitors are developed by Austin based Interactive Health Technologies. The company is working with other school districts in Central Texas to integrate the technology which can cost on average about $4,000 for the monitors and software.
IDEA Public Schools started with a pilot program. Four years later, all campuses now have the heart rate monitors.
“There is a lesson planning going on, there’s full student engagement, there’s participation, behavior rates are better, ADA — meaning students are in clas — those rates are going up,” said Eren Kirksey, IDEA Public Schools District Director of Athletics and PE.
Kirksey explained that one of the hurdles was getting everyone on board with the new technology. He said the goal has always been to take what happens inside the gym and use it throughout the day in the classrooms.
“Being able to come into a physical education environment as such, take that back to the classroom, you are more willing to ask for help,” said Kirksey. “You are more focused to the teachers instruction and you’re more likely to be physically, both mind and body … to sit down in a classroom for 35… 45… an hour, and receive quality-level instruction.”
Coaches and teachers have noticed students are more focused and it’s helping them learn how to cope with their feelings.
“A lot of our students struggle with anxiety and things like that, so times like that I can tell them, ‘You know what, you’re on yellow. Just relax, take a deep breath, recover your breathing,’ and once you’re back to blue, they’re fine, then they can come back to the activity,” Coach Rojas explained.
At the end of each class, students scan their monitors and see their progress. A report is then sent to teachers and parents.
What’s happening in gyms and classrooms is also being studied by the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Elementary schools in Texas are participating in a study right now which will allow students to learn how to self-manage their mental, physical and emotional health and well-being.