Rhoads

After two years, West Des Moines schools switch to IHT Spirit heart rate technology

“This is what we need to do to help students be healthy and fit for life. If we don’t provide the necessary tools, we are doing the students a disservice.”

Aug. 3, 2017 – Two years ago, Brian Rhoads implemented a pilot program to study heart rate in his physical education classes at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School (West Des Moines, Iowa). The program continues this school year district-wide in all 13 of West Des Moines’ campuses but with IHT Spirit System equipment.

“We piloted a program using [a heart rate technology company’s] chest strap monitors in our 9th grade building,” Rhoads said. “The next year we tried out [the same company’s] wrist monitors, but they weren’t multi-user friendly in a school of 700 students.”

To meet the needs of their innovative program, Rhoads used research and analysis to convince West Des Moines’ leadership to switch to the IHT Spirit System, complete with assessment software, to be used throughout the district. As the new K-12 PE Curriculum Leader for the district, Rhoads saw a better fit for the district’s needs: the adidas ZONE for IHT Spirit wrist heart rate monitors and the IHT Spirit Assessment Measures software. He estimates that 7,500 students will use the heart rate monitors this year.

Rhoads“I came across the IHT system and saw it in action,” he said. “I watched pretty much every online video I could find on them. It was a no-brainer that was suited to what we wanted to do.”

Rhoads: ‘These are our textbooks’

Rhoads heard colleagues around the country lament the fact that PE departments rarely received funding for upgrades. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, PE did not receive the same funding that other subjects did. He wouldn’t let that reality stand in his way.

“The district has had money [to fund new purchases] for years,” he said. “Simply put, these heart rate monitors are the physical education department’s textbooks. Physical education has been left out of those funds for many years – no one knew to ask for it. Well, I asked for it.”

Rhoads learned of West Des Moines’ curriculum funding budget and found that PE had not been included in the past. He approached administrators just as a curriculum adoption cycle had begun and provided his research to back his funding request.

“The administration felt very comfortable giving us the tools to help our students be healthy and fit,” he said. “Our leadership knows the benefit of physical education. They know when they aren’t working out and fit, they don’t do as well in their jobs. The same holds true of students.”

‘Funding is a different animal’

The WDMCS administration’s commitment to PE became evident when Rhoads learned that a PEP Grant application didn’t get approved. The district had set aside funding to use as a matching grant if the PEP Grant came through.

“Even though we didn’t get the grant, they moved forward with funding anyway and gave us what we needed to get started,” he recalled.

Rhoads acknowledges that funding remains different from district to district. The onus, he said, falls on the teachers to seek out ways to cover costs should a district simply not have enough in its budget.

“Funding is a different animal,” he said. “Either the district has it or it doesn’t. If not, you have to look around. Which grants? Which local businesses are interested in health and wellness? How can you partner with a health-minded company to get money?”

Helping Administrators Understand

Rhoads
Photo by Merle Laswell/Des Moines Register, 2014

Rhoads identified that research, knowledge and data concerning the technology would provide the most success when engaging with the budgetary decision makers. He studied reports and academic papers on heart rate and academic progress, anticipating every possible question he might face and making sure he had the answer before approaching the school board or his superintendent.

“PE teachers need to be more proactive if we want to move forward into the 20th century,” he said. “We have to do the work. We have to collect the data. We have to educate those above us. We have to get them to understand what we do in the classrooms.”

Providing that data-based understanding with administrators gained Rhoads the permission to purchase new technology just two years into his program.

“There was nothing that they could argue against,” Rhoads said. “We had the facts. They looked at those facts and decided to fund it to make it work for us. It was a lot of time spent on my end, but that’s what I had to do in order to go to the superintendents and school boards and share the plan and the vision.”

Advocating for PE

Rhoads’ vision showed heart rate monitors as tools vital to helping everyone understand the role fitness plays in developing the entire student. To garner further support and understanding from the school community – including teachers and parents – Rhoads provided data that shows the continuing trend of academic growth made by healthy, fit students.

“Education is the key,” Rhoads said. “We must continue to create awareness of what we are doing to benefit students academically, socially and emotionally, and the like. We have to get that in front of everyone. The community needs to know what’s going on in the program. If you don’t share the information [and the data], they won’t know.”

The ability to collect data proved one of the main advantages Rhoads saw in IHT’s technology after comparing it to his original choice.

“The difference between products is night and day,” he said. “IHT is truly built for PE teachers, not for fitness [experts or individual consumers] in the community. It can be used that way, but it’s intended for physical education where it is a key for our community moving forward. For IHT, the ability to collect and share data is phenomenal. It will allow us to continue to grow in the direction we want to grow.”

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