Waltzing Students to Health, Fitness and Rhythm

When the 2011 State Teachers of the Year visited the Department of Education in May, we asked them if they had solutions to challenges in the areas of teacher effectiveness, healthy schools and parent and community engagement. For Alaska Teacher of the Year Lorrie Heagy, the answer was an enthusiastic “yes!”—and she sent video footage to prove it.

At Ms. Heagy’s school, Glacier Valley Elementary in Juneau, Alaska, the music teacher, physical education teacher, school counselor and librarian have teamed up to create an arts-integrated class where students learn ballroom dancing. The teachers collaborate with a dance instructor from the local state university to provide instruction in five dances. As a result of this collaboration, students are more physically active, learn to work as a team, and develop and polish new social skills—all through dance.

More than 200 students participated in the integrated unit and showcased their dance moves at a school assembly. Then, students competed to represent Glacier Valley on the “HeART & Sole” dance team at the Juneau-Douglas High School Dance Team Spring Show. Glacier Valley’s 24-member team received a standing ovation for their dance routine, which incorporated the waltz, tango, merengue, swing, foxtrot and electric slide (watch video from the show here or below).


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Initially funded several years ago through the U.S. Department of Education’s Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP), Glacier Valley offers the eight-week ballroom dance class for its 3rd-5th graders twice a week. According to Ms. Heagy, “The arts not only engage students, but also revitalize teachers, make school inviting for parents, and involve community members in meaningful ways.” The program has had such a powerful impact on Glacier Valley students that former students hope to return to help coach next year’s team. Local businesses and the school’s parent association have stepped up to continue funding the ballroom dance unit for the past five years.

Glacier Valley is one of many examples of schools and districts finding innovative ways to promote and integrate physical activity and nutrition into school programming. Whether it’s PEP grantees in Covington, Ky., sponsoring fitness field trips and active family fun nights, or in Telluride, Colo., constructing ropes courses for outdoor fitness challenges, schools across the United States are finding ways to engage both students and their communities and promote active, healthy lifestyles.

- Aurora H. Steinle is a Special Advisor to the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Education

A Teacher We Met: Terry Cornett

Agriscience teacher Terry Cornett

Agriscience teacher Terry Cornett uses his class to review math and science concepts.

Agriscience teachers prepare students for one of the nation’s oldest and most-rewarding industries: growing safe and healthy food. Terry Cornett makes agriscience come alive for his students at Liberty Middle School in a rural segment of Hanover, Va. A 30-year teaching veteran with tremendous enthusiasm and deep knowledge of his subject, Cornett has dramatically changed the way that agriscience is taught at our school, involving students in both the skills and mission of community farming.

Previously a physical science teacher, Cornett recognized how much his students struggled with math and science concepts. With that notion in mind, he incorporates more of those critical subjects into his agriscience teaching. “Teaching kids how to think and generalize concepts is vital,” Cornett said. “Agriscience allows me to teach cross-curricular (concepts). Students are gaining the theory from their content classes, then I am able to provide the opportunity for practical application in my class.” (Read how the Department’s Blueprint for Reform supports students receiving a complete education that includes science, technology, engineering, and math.)

To fully engage students in science, Cornett has encouraged them to become more involved with award recognition programs. This year, he has reintroduced FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) into the agriscience program, and students grow and sell plants from the school’s greenhouse. They even had their organically grown greens used in salads offered in the school’s cafeteria.

Students Chase Buchannon, Matt Downey, and Clay Welton

Left to right: Students Chase Buchannon, Matt Downey, and Clay Welton cultivate their Farm to Table garden and their love of learning.

Under the “Farm to Table” banner and working with Liberty Middle’s home economics teacher, Cornett’s classes have become immersed in promoting locally grown agriculture through education, community outreach, and networking. Farm to Table enhances marketing opportunities for agriscience students; encourages family farming, farmers’ markets, and preservation of agricultural traditions; influences public policy; and furthers understanding of the links among farming, food, health, and local economies. In addition, Cornett is looking to get more involved with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign next school year.

“Helping to keep traditions alive for our farming community is rewarding,” Cornett said.

Lisa Coates
Lisa Coates is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow who recently spent time observing Terry Cornett while teaching at Liberty Middle School in Hanover, Va.

Review information about rural schools from the Institute of Education Sciences.

Learn more about Rural School Achievement Formula Grants.

Read a blog article from a student of Lisa Coates, Raquan Moore.

Physical Fitness for All

Students gather in the gym at Oxon Hill Elementary

Throughout May, the White House and Department of Education have celebrated Physical Fitness and Sports month—an annual reminder to us all of the importance of physical activity in our daily life. Yesterday, I  joined Andrea Cernich with the President’ s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition on a visit to Oxon Hill Elementary School in Prince George’s County, Md., to talk with district officials, school leaders, teachers, parents, and others about how students with disabilities can fully participate in the school’s physical education and sports programs.

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report that found students with disabilities participated in athletics at consistently lower rates than students without disabilities.

Adapting physical activities for students with disabilities requires extra resources—time, money and expertise. In schools that fully include students with disabilities in physical instruction and athletics, stakeholders and decision makers have found those resources and applied them to benefit all students in the school.

Students Exercising at Oxon Hill ElementaryWhen I walked into the Oxon Hill Elementary gymnasium yesterday, I knew that I was seeing a shining example of inclusive physical education programming. The school’s Comprehensive Special Education Program ensures that all of the school’s 100 plus students with disabilities are included in general academic and physical education classes.  I practiced my ability to jump right and left and backwards and forward along with a group of second graders in a Dance, Dance Revolution class. I saw how expertly the general physical education teacher and an adapted physical education teacher had worked together to plan and execute a seamless lesson that fully included each of the 30 students in the lesson, including students with disabilities.

I encourage everyone to learn more about Oxon Hill Elementary’s program and others like it. Together, we can share strategies for fully engaging every child in schools’ physical fitness programming and athletics.

For more tips, resources and information on ways parents, teachers and community members can join forces to keep students active, fit and healthy, connect with the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.

Alexa Posny is the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education.

Let’s Move!: Federal Employees Help Students Gear Up for Fitness

While Friday the 13th is generally believed to be a day of perpetual bad luck, for the more than 200 students at Charles H. Houston Elementary in Washington, DC, last Friday was anything but unlucky, as students grooved to Kenny Loggins’ Footloose and recognized the winners of the “Why Fitness is Important” essay contest who each received a free pedometer, jump rope, two bottles of water, and new athletic shoes.

The students were gathered as part of a new community-based initiative to fight childhood obesity called Foot Lose. The initiative is the creation of an enthusiastic group of federal agency professionals known as “The Soaring Swans,” who are enrolled in the Executive Leadership Program at the Graduate School in Washington, DC. Through the Foot Lose campaign, federal employees in the Executive Leadership Program are asked to donate new athletic shoes and to encourage children to lose unhealthy habits that lead to childhood obesity. The initiative also supports the President’s Challenge and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign by helping to solve the problem of obesity within a generation.

To determine a pool of eligible students for Foot Lose, “The Soaring Swans” and Houston Elementary educators held a “Why Fitness is Important” essay contest about the importance of fitness. A total of 25 essays and, from preschoolers, 20 posters were submitted.  Each child who submitted an entry was matched with a sponsor in the Executive Leadership Program, who provided the new shoes. “The Soaring Swans” donated the other fitness gear for the winners of the essay contest.

The Foot Lose event at Houston Elementary was a culmination of the students’ hard work and included a workout and a recognition ceremony for the students who submitted essays and artwork. Following the workout, the students received their new shoes and equipment, as well as a Let’s Move! action plan.

For more information on how you can take action, visit letsmove.gov/action

Jennifer Arthur

Jennifer Arthur is an Auditor in the Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General

Take the HealthierUS School Challenge

We know that one of the keys to effective learning is a healthy child, and we also know that a key to a child’s health is healthy eating and exercise.  On an average school day in this country, our children consume more than half of their daily calories at school, and more than thirty-one million of these children participate in the school lunch program.

Fortunately, thanks to the leadership of First Lady Michelle Obama and programs such as the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge, schools around the country are committing to reducing hunger, increasing nutrition, and promoting physical activity.  I know firsthand the importance of being active during the day, and I often joke that without recess and gym at school, I would have been in real trouble.

However, despite the progress we’ve made in improving student health, there is still much work to be done.  Too many schools are being forced to make do with fewer resources, and meeting the demands of the HealthierUS School Challenge can often prove difficult.  Yet with a little hard work and creativity, I believe that achieving a healthier school environment can be done.

I have visited some remarkable schools around the country where teachers and administrators are going above the call of duty to incorporate health and wellness into the daily lives of their students.  Such action not only affects nutrition and physical activity at school, but reaches beyond the classroom and lunchroom into homes and communities.

I support the First Lady’s goal of doubling the number of HealthierUS Schools by June of 2012.  The Department of Education is working closely with the USDA, HHS, the Domestic Policy Council, and the First Lady’s Office to ensure that more school children have access to healthy meals, and that our nation’s schools and districts have health on the top of their mind.

Arne Duncan

Get started on making your school a HealthierUS School.