Let's Move Active Schools in Kentucky

Today, the Lane Report shared news that our Education Commissioner, Terry Holliday  is "committed to improving the health and wellness of Kentucky's students. ‘Let’s Move!’ helps schools create active environments that get students moving every day and supports their success in school.”

What a breathe of fresh air! A leader that recognizes the link between health and learning! Nearly 50 Kentucky school districts have signed up for the initiative that supports schools using a needs assessment tool, like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Schools Program Inventory, developing an action plan and working on overall physical education, physical activity during/before/after school and professional development/support to school staff to get more kids moving during their time on school grounds.

Yes, I love that my new home state is implementing national initiatives that bring together an array of strong partners. But, I'm most impressed that our educational leader sees that our students won't achieve to their full potential unless they are healthy.

More from the article:

The Kentucky Board of Education Health Subcommittee will officially recognize all Kentucky school districts that have made a commitment to the “Let’s Move!” Active Schools initiative at the Southern District American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) convention Feb. 20 in Lexington. Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition (PCFSN), will be a featured speaker and will help present recognition certificates to participating district superintendents.

AAHPERD and PCFSN serve as the managing partners of the “Let’s Move!” Active Schools program and work closely with organizations across sectors to support the program. Participating schools receive priority for physical education and physical activity grants associated with the program, customized technical assistance and professional development. Any U.S. school can enroll and receive assistance and support at no cost. For more information, visit letsmove.gov.

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html#History). 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).

Email: Jamie.sparks@education.ky.gov
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!

Jefferson County Public Schools

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is the 28th largest school district in the US. And, now it's my local school district in Louisville, Kentucky. I was invited to attend the JCPS Principal Advisory and District Wellness Committee Meeting today. I was incredibly impressed by the organizations and partners in attendance, including a school board member, Family Resource and Youth Services Center representative, PTA, the school counseling lead for the district, food service director, Department of Education, Center for Health Equity and two principals! I'm sure I missed another 4-5 organizations in attendance. 

The district has been working hard on a set of documents that I've actually never seen a district do. They have a document for each of the 8 components of Coordinated School Health (CSH) and they listed the federal, state and local policies supporting each component. For example, for Nutrition Services, they describe the component and list the federal, state and local regulations and polices, as well as the websites and references that align to nutrition services. Same for the other 7 components. A great tool for administrators to demonstrate that school health isn't yet another 'thing' to do, but something already in place in policy, that supports the learning of your students.  

Discussions around coat collection efforts and vision screenings for youth were discussed, including moving away from donuts and muffins to popcorn. It's all school health. We want youth to have coats to get to and from school. We want kids to be able to see. We want students to have access to nutrient rich foods. I found it amazing how no matter what level meeting I'm in (national, state, local), the discussions are the same, implementation a bit different. How do we create sustainable systems change in schools that address the whole child? How can we continue to make the case that healthy kids learn better? That our test scores won't increase without safe, healthy children? 

I'm thrilled to have picked to live in a city that has an engaged District Wellness Committee. This city gets better and better everyday!