Washoe Schools Program Tests Link Between Fitness, Academic Performance
By studying standardized test results next month, physical education teachers in Reno, Nev., are analyzing how heart rate-based physical education has helped improve both student fitness and academic performance.
Organized by Pine Middle School P.E. teacher Jencie Fagan, seven Washoe County School District teachers are using the IHT Zone wrist heart rate monitors from Interactive Health Technologies to document an increase in math and reading scores in connection with increased student fitness.
“Our objective is to have the students wear the heart rate monitors for at least 20 minutes twice a week,” Fagan said. “Then we will link their fitness improvements with their Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) scores.”
Correlating Fitness and Academics
MAP tests measure the students’ progress in both math and reading, and the next round of testing begins Nov. 27. That gives Fagan and her colleagues a little more time to work with students to improve their physical fitness in advance of the academic assessment.
Students wear the heart rate monitors and receive immediate feedback on attaining the goal of minutes spent exercising at an elevated heart rate. The IHT Zone monitors show students their actual heart rate as well as the color “zone” they are exercising in. Blue represents exercise at a relaxed heart rate; yellow indicates moderate heart rate; and red indicates vigorous activity. Students are encouraged to exercise in the yellow and red zones.
Since she introduced the IHT Zone heart rate monitors, Fagan’s noticed improved student fitness across the board in her classes. In addition to daily activities such as circuit training and golf, Fagan will assess student fitness through elements of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program’s FitnessGram® tests.
“Wearing the heart rate monitors, the students are much more self-motivated,” she said. “We picked students for the program who came to the middle school without having had formal physical education before. We are seeing what we hoped to see. They compete against each other but more importantly they compete against what they’ve achieved in the past themselves in terms of time spent in the target heart rate zones.”
Students have begun to understand what a beneficial workout feels like.
“It is different because you actually have an idea on how hard you are working,” said student Griffin Strom.
The students see their heart rates while working out, but the IHT’s Spirit System software takes that awareness further. Immediately after their class session, students receive an email detailing how their heart responded in the just-completed workout. Parents receive that email as well, getting an idea of exactly what their child accomplished during physical education that day.
“I learn how hard my daughter works in P.E. in getting her heart rate up, and I learned that she is not as happy as she could be with where her heart rate is during exercise, so now she is constantly pushing herself,” said Juleen Ruiz, a parent at Pine Middle.
Learning lifelong skills
While the students learn in class what it feels like to exercise at an elevated heart rate, Fagan said they are also learning skills that will help them later in life.
“They see their heart rate numbers, but they are learning what healthy exercise should feel like,” Fagan said. “Their body is telling them how they are doing. Eventually, they will know for themselves by kinesthetic awareness how well they are working out.”
Students have already started to recognize that exercise and fitness helps them in their academic classes.
“I have more energy in class to get more work done,” said Pine Middle School student Joseph Espinosa.
Fagan and her colleagues acquired the heart rate monitors and accompanying software through a partnership with the State of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Washoe leadership is also applying for grants that will enable the district to purchase the monitors and software and expand the program throughout the 64,000-student district.
In addition to Fagan at Pine Middle School, students working with the following teachers are also taking part in the pilot:
- Amanda Beville, Innovations High School
- Linette Corkill, Clayton Middle School
- Jason Ehlen, McQueen High School
- Marv Mercer, Traner Middle School
- Kelly Mitchell, Dilworth Middle School
- Ed Parise, McQueen High School
Students will continue to wear the heart rate monitors at least twice a week until the Thanksgiving break, which occurs Nov. 20. MAP testing begins the following week, after which Fagan and her colleagues will begin to assess the already-evident impact the program had on students.
“I have seen success in simple circuit training activities, as well as running and soccer because of the heart rate monitors,” Mitchell said of her Dilworth students. “I have kids now competing to receive the highest time in their zone. It’s awesome to watch them compete.”