Physical Activity Interventions

This is the first blogpost from new guest blogger Jamie Sparks! We are thrilled that Jamie will be a regularly featured blogger for Cairn Guidance. To hear Jamie verbally/visually present this blog post (audio-blog), click here

In March of 2013, I finally gave in and converted to Twitter (@JamieSparksCSH).  It was my second conversion to the world of social media, the other being LinkedIn.  I use both mediums for strictly professional purposes to increase awareness and advocate for school health issues.  Thus I am now thankful to Cairn Guidance for my next opportunity to increase advocacy through blogging.

This is my first attempt at sharing relevant experiences in written form, so let me start my official first blog with a parable: a farmer gives one set of farm hands a growing pot, soil, water and seeds.  The farmer gives a second group of farm hands a growing pot, soil, water and seeds, along with a box of MiracleGro.  Given the same variables in growing conditions, no one would argue that the second set of farm hands have an unfair advantage in what their seeds are capable of producing. 

Let me reword my parable to the modern day classroom: A principal gives one set of teachers a classroom, curriculum, quality instructional practices and summative assessments. The principal gives a second group of teachers a classroom, curriculum, quality instructional practices and summative assessments, along with physical activity interventions and movement resources.  The majority of the time in the education world I often hear excuses such as,  “We don’t have time.” “There are too many other things to do.” With competing academic pressures physical activity is minimized or even completely excluded in schools today.  However Dr. John Ratey, in his book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, describes the physiological change of neurons during exercise as essentially MiracleGro for the brain.  So why is it that when you introduce MiracleGro in the garden, it is an unfair advantage, but when we talk MiracleGro for the brain we do not hear the same argument? Unfortunately, in this scenario there are too few educators that recognize physical activity as an “unfair advantage” for learning and achievement. 

This leads me to the importance and subtlety in words of how we advocate. One of my personal peeves is the terminology “brain break” or “physical activity break”.  In my profession of physical education and kinesiology I understand the intent, however, the gatekeeper for most school policies, programs and thus classroom practices is the principal.  The principal has an enormous and always growing list of priorities and accountability measures, so anything labeled as a “break” has an uphill challenge for inclusion.  Thus, the need to call physical activity what it actually is,… an intervention!  School professional development and professional learning is immersed with differentiating instruction for all students through the framework of response to intervention (RTI).   The reality for many schools today is that they are not only not including “brain breaks” as RTI, but oftentimes will remove students from physical education and recess for other so-called interventions.  This double-edged sword is a major reality. Students are not receiving the needed wellness benefits of physical activity nor are they receiving the much needed MiracleGro effect for academic achievement. 

The education system is about preparing students for a global economy through what we are currently calling college and career readiness.  I submit to you that any system that ignores the benefits of physical activity is inadequate and will not succeed in producing true college/career readiness.  Today’s workforce often puts higher value on this than schools currently do.  Many major corporations incentivize their employees for physical activity because they understand the simple investment; it enhances production and does not take away from it.  They value the intervention! My hope is that education does not allow this intervention message to be “choked” out but hears this message and understands it.  Then we can produce students yielding a hundredfold our current efforts!


More about Jamie:

With a Bachelor of Arts in Health Education and Physical Education from Morehead State University and a Masters of Arts in School Guidance Counseling also from M.S.U., Jamie Sparks began his career as an elementary health and physical education teacher in the eastern region of Kentucky.

During the tenure of his teaching experience, he was able to start building an exemplary school wellness program through a variety of methods that centered on school/community partnerships.  He created a school wellness card was the early foundation for school wellness funding, which helped later pave a road for his district to become involved with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  As the district wellness coordinator Jamie began the district’s path of monitoring implementation and doing annual assessment for measuring the district’s implementation.

After working at the local district level for nine years, Jamie decided to pursue a career opportunity with the Coordinated School Health team at the Kentucky Department of Education, which is a funded state by the Centers for Disease Control.  In August 2010, he began as the Physical Activity, Nutrition and Tobacco consultant at the department. In March 2011, he assumed the role of Project Director for the Coordinated School Health initiative.  Kentucky was one of seven states funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the National Association of State Boards of Education.  This obesity prevention created the state’s first state board of education health subcommittee that was tasked with reviewing the states policies for nutrition, physical education and physical activity.  Jamie continues to be the chair of this Kentucky Board of Education School Health Committee, which includes a wide range of stakeholders from state-level agencies, advocacy groups, and the state Chamber of Commerce.  The health committee works alongside an internal working group within the Kentucky Department of Education that is made of staff members from all offices, representing each associate commissioner.  Together, they are working to enhance the state’s process of evaluating schools’ compliance with extracurricular programs, including health and physical activity.  The committee works to align their policy work with the College/Career Readiness accountability.

In July 2013, Jamie was named as Co-lead under the newly awarded CDC grant, State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health that the Kentucky Department for Public Health received. Because of his prior teaching experience, he understands the challenges of school health and brings that local school perspective to his current position in state government and remains a strong advocate for the importance of communication and relationship building.

Jamie also serves as the Vice President for Physical Education within his state KAHPERD (Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance).

Twitter: @JamieSparksCSH