One Score and Three Years Ago...

Blog Post by regular guest blogger, Jamie Sparks, Coordinated School Health Director at Kentucky Department of Education @JamieSparksCSH


One score and three years ago, the first states in America that began to collect obesity rates, were recorded in the 15-19% range of total population for adult obesity ( Now, here we sit (pun intended) twenty-three years later, and no state is currently below the 20% mark. Many will claim that obesity is a complex and multifaceted issue. While this is true to some degree, it is for the majority of the population a very simple equation: energy in versus energy out. Energy in is the amount of food/calories we put into our body, energy out is the measure of amount of physical activity we participate in.

For the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on the issue of inadequate physical activity in our culture. Physical activity competes with many things in today's fast paced, technology dominated world. Modern conveniences have contributed, especially the many varied forms of "screen time". Training our mind to engage by watching and listening while not moving, equates to a decrease in energy expended. Our root issue is much deeper than simply technology. It is an issue of illiteracy, more specifically physical illiteracy. Physical literacy is an emerging term that embodies the concept that students have knowledge, skills and confidence to live a physically active lifestyle. This pattern has continued to grow due to a lack of education in schools as well as a lack of education at home. These two settings are the bedrock of what "shapes" norms for behavior and frankly the norms we have produced have created a modern day plague.  This plague stems from a lack of access for young people to obtain rich learning experiences nor adequate time to develop physical literacy within the context of a quality physical education program. The role of the physical education program must shift and must be given higher priority in order for this plague to end. All across the country, physical education time competes with high stakes testing connected to school accountability.

In the next series of blogs I will present a practical approach that is being transformed to position schools to be that agent of change from a common sense perspective called comprehensive school physical activity program (CSPAP). Stay tuned!


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

2013 Coordinated School Health Summit, All In for Health & Academic Success

Last Thursday, the Department for Public Health (DPH), Cabinet for Health and Family Services sponsored their annual conference and you'll NEVER guess what their topic for this year was?? Coordinated School Health (CSH). It got me thinking… I've moved to the right state.

DPH Coordinated School Health lead, Victoria Greenwell partnered with Department of Education Coordinated School Health, Jamie Sparks, Todd Davis and Stephanie Bunge (which forms the CSH Team between health and education), Board of Education Health Sub-committee and RMC Health (an organization I'm on the Board of Directors for!) to put on this fabulous event. The team worked tirelessly the past couple of months on this event (trust me, I know there have been late evening calls and weekend hours put into this event). What did they pull off? 

Let the day begin! #KYCSH

Let the day begin! #KYCSH

  • Over 350 people in attendance
  • Over 30 school teams attended through leadership of and in partnership with a County Public Health Official
  • All teams completed the WellSAT, a needs assessment tool to assess a school district's Wellness Policy
  • Well-respected education researcher and author, Charles Basch, Healther Students are Better Learners, provided the keynote address
  • Eight, 10 minute CSH Unbridled Talks, "TED-style" presentations by mostly local experts each sharing success stories and advocating for one of the eight components of coordinated school health (soon to be available on YouTube)
  • Walking the talk by offering nutrient-rich, healthy breakfast, snack and lunch options
  • Incorporating youth throughout the day to lead physical activities and introduce representatives from partnering organizations
  • Time for school teams to network and action plan next steps

Some other highlights from the day include:

  • Jefferson County Public Schools' commitment to participate in Let's Move Active Schools, therefore being the largest school district in the country to sign on to this national initiative
  • Welcome from DPH Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield and Chief of Staff at Department of Education, Tommy Floyd, modeling the partnership between health and education
  • Vicki Greenwell interviewing Charles Basch in the afternoon for partners in attendance not associated with a school team
  • Sarah Peterson in attendance from Congressman John Yarmuth's office
  • Also in attendance: Policy Advisor from KY Department of Education- Mary Ann Miller, Division Director of Maternal and Child Health - Dr. Ruth Ann Shepherd and Assistant Director - Marvin Miller, Deputy Secretary for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services- Eric Friedlander, President and Vice-President of KHDA (KY Health Department Association), Anthony Lockard and Paula Alexander
  • Two state representatives joined school teams with their communities including Mary Lou Marzian from Jefferson County and W. Keith Hall from Pike County
  • I sat at the same table with Commissioner Mayfield, Dr. Humbaugh (State Epidemiologist and Sr Deputy Commissioner) and enjoyed lunch conversations with Charles Basch and Tommy Floyd. Kentucky appears to be a place where people genuinely partner and are quite accessible.
  • Key organizations in attendance: Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Humana Vitality, Action for Healthy Kids and many others!
  • Social Media reach on Twitter: 30,000 (see graphs below)

Again, I'm proud and fortunate to live in a state with health and education working together to create healthier school communities! Go US! 

Vicki Greenwell interviewing Charles Basch

Vicki Greenwell interviewing Charles Basch

Tommy Floyd, Department of Education Chief of Staff welcoming participants

Tommy Floyd, Department of Education Chief of Staff welcoming participants

Jamie Sparks, portraying 'Hipster Santa" encouraging participants that there's nothing 'hipper' then posting on social media. Prizes were given throughout the day encouraging those "tweeting"!

Jamie Sparks, portraying 'Hipster Santa" encouraging participants that there's nothing 'hipper' then posting on social media. Prizes were given throughout the day encouraging those "tweeting"!

Twitter statistics for the day!

Twitter statistics for the day!

Let's Move Active Schools!


This week I'm in Phoenix alongside 20 other invite-only trainers in the field of health and physical education to participate in the first ever national training of trainers (TOT) lead by a partnership between CDC, Nike, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, AAHPERD and the President's Council on Physical Fitness. The TOT is being facilitated by a longtime colleague of mine, Deb Christopher from Bolder Learning and the Physical Activity Leader (content) training is being facilitated by Aaron Beighle from University of Kentucky and Fran Zavacky from AAHPERD, other colleagues of mine that I've known for awhile. 

The training coincides with Arizona's AAHPERD, now called Arizona Health and PE so the regular training today will include another 20 educators from around Arizona. Tomorrow will be the TOT piece, where the original 20 selected trainers will take the next step and become trainers of trainers to help the initiative eventually over 5 years train over 20,000 educators in how to implement the Let's Move Active Schools work.  

The mantra of the initiative is "60 a Day!" and it includes a step by step process for creating sustainable systems change at a school implementing a CSPAP, Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program. A lot of people get recess, physical activity and physical education confused. They may be all different programs within in a school and the goal is that kids are physical active at least 60 minutes a day.

So, how does one implement a CSPAP in a school?  Best practice says, implement a coordinated school health process... 

Step 1: Establish a team. A SHAC, SWC, whatever you call it! Basically a council or team that works together so if that one champion leaves the following year, you have a committee

Step 2: Conduct an assessment of existing physical activity opportunities. Use the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Inventory! Or the School Health Index! Whatever it is, use something out there that has been developed and tested.

Step 3: Create a vision statement, goals and objectives for your CSPAP and use data from the needs assessment to drive this. 

Step 4: Identify the outcomes or specific changes that will be direct results of the program implementation

Step 5: Identify and plan the activities for your CSPAP

Step 6: Implement! 

Step 7: Evaluate your CSPAP. Make change based on results and improve your programs! 

More to come after Days 2, 3, 4... but here are a few photos from yesterday's training.


Deb, keeping us out of our seats and active!

Deb, keeping us out of our seats and active!