by Devin Taylor
Welcome to Part Two in our School Wellness series! In Part One, we talked about our commitment to wellness through school nutrition. In this installment, we’ll explore physical activity at Spero Academy and the ways that we promote a physically active lifestyle.
Putting the right nutrients in our bodies is important, but there’s more to the equation. Providing students with opportunities to use that good food energy to grow their bodies and minds is an essential part of student wellness. Luckily, physical activity is a big part of the Spero Academy school day! From the OT circuit to the OT gym-- the adaptive playground to the active classroom-- Spero students are often on the move, improving focus, cognition, and emotional regulation.
Let’s start by getting to know our Physical Education Program!
Physical Education at Spero
Physical Education (P.E.) is a requirement in the state of Minnesota, with specific Academic Standards for elementary students. In order to meet these requirements and to ensure equal access to all students, the Spero P.E. team provides both general and developmentally adapted physical education (DAPE). The team is headed up by licenced Physical Education and DAPE teacher, Ryan Toland, Physical Education teacher, Morgan McGarry, and assistant P.E. teacher, Kenny McGee.
We wanted to hear from the experts about the role of physical education-- particularly as a component of our special education program. Here’s what they had to say!
What are the important contributions of physical education?
Encouraging a positive attitude toward physical activity and movement is an important contribution in our effort to promote a physically healthy lifestyle. We follow the Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards for Physical Education in order to develop lessons that promote physically literate individuals who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity (MN Dept. Ed). It is important for students to be exposed to a variety of lifelong physical activities, games, exercises, and movements in order to discover or develop an interest in physical activity that allows them to live healthy lives.
Are there ways that physical education is uniquely important in a special education environment?
Students within the special education environment benefit from physical education in a number of ways. Physical Education provides an opportunity for developing physical skills, improving skill deficits that may be present, and exploring movement in ways that students may not have had much exposure or access to. Physical education is a great way for students to collaborate and cooperate with peers and use social skills during exercise and game play. This dynamic can also help improve self-confidence and a sense of inclusion as they contribute to group activities. Physical Education engages students to learn how to be physically fit or active, can help to control health related disease and obesity, and encourages a healthy lifestyle.
What sort of accommodations are made to ensure that all students have access to daily physical education?
The Physical Education program uses a variety of accommodations to meet the needs of every student. To start, class sizes are small, forming a great staff to student ratio; some classes are 2-3 students per staff member! In addition to these accommodations, we meet students’ needs by providing alternate or modified equipment1, modified rules or procedures, and we provide a variety of visuals to enhance communication.
In what ways have you seen your students grow physically, emotionally, and socially?
Physical Education classes at Spero Academy have seen a great increase in participation. Students are enthusiastically participating in personal and group activities and challenges. They have been working on appropriate ways to express emotion and work cooperatively with others. We continue to see an increasing number of students who will reach out to help others in an area of need or support them when they see the chance. Many students have acquired new skills and improved on others. We are very proud to see the growth in each of our students.
Physical activity is clearly essential to student development. So just how much of the school day should it constitute?
The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of sixty minutes of daily physical activity for elementary school age children, and physical education is an important part of reaching that goal. Now let’s take a look at some of the other ways we ensure our students get plenty of physical activity throughout the school day!
If you ask our students, a lot of them will tell you that recess is the most important part of the school day. And they’re not the only ones who think so! The CDC recommends that schools provide at least twenty minutes of recess each day.
Every classroom at Spero has a designated half-hour of recess, and our playground--built with the needs of our students in mind--provides a safe and accessible space for active play. Certified paraprofessional staff provide interactive supervision and support, helping students of all abilities participate more fully in recess activities.
In addition to providing a needed break from the structure of the classroom, recess promotes physical, social, and emotional development. No student is deprived of these important benefits for any reason. Our Local Wellness Policy prohibits withholding recess or other physical activities as a consequence for behavior or academic performance, and in the event of inclement weather, students are able to participate in active indoor recess. The gym is open for student use, and a variety of equipment is provided through the generosity of the Physical Education department.
In the Classroom and Around the School
During the school day, Spero students work with a variety of specialists on tasks which often incorporate movement. Staying regulated throughout the day requires frequent activity that engages both the body and mind.
The SMART Program at Spero Academy offers students an active and multi-sensory experience designed to help them fully access their education by becoming better learners.
The idea behind SMART (Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training) is that movement enhances learning by improving focus and accelerating cognitive processing. With a variety of daily exercises targeting sensory and motor skills, the SMART program engages students in the classroom, OT circuit, and during transitions throughout the school.
Spero teachers incorporate movement into academics, while providing movement breaks throughout the day. Taking a brain break with Go Noodle is a favorite at every grade level!
Trips to the zoo and the apple orchard are a favorite way to learn while moving, and our annual all-school bowling trip always has our Spero Stars trying their best!
Physically Active Fundraising
We believe that fundraising activities should focus on fun rather than food. The annual school dance is a favorite active pastime, and our first ever Walk & Roll Fundraiser was a huge success, thanks in large part to a health-minded Parent Teacher Group!
So what are our next steps?
As we review and refine our Local Wellness Policy, we are thinking about ways to further encourage and support a physically active lifestyle for our students and staff alike. Some of the areas we’re considering include after hours use of school facilities for physical activity and promoting safe routes for walking and biking to school.
What sort of developments would you like to see to our school wellness policy?
If you’d like to be involved in reviewing and updating our current policy, you can attend our Triennial Review on April 28th. All Spero staff, students, and families are welcome and encouraged to participate!
Spero Academy continues to grow right along with our students, and we are committed to growing up strong and healthy. With the help of our entire Spero community, we look forward to bringing a little more wellness to everyone’s world.
Interested in joining our School Wellness Committee? Complete the Wellness Committee Interest Survey and let us know!
1May include foam equipment (hockey sticks, paddles), hula-hoop holders, therapy bands, tactile stepping stones, squishy spots, adapted bowling pins, adapted tricycles, and more.