If you happened to stop in at Peoples Academy Middle Level before school and saw dozens of kids playing games and running around, you’d probably assume they were just passing the time or maybe burning off a little energy until classes began.

But they’re doing much more than that. They’re jumpstarting their brains.

“We want to encourage kids to get up and move before school starts,” said Laura Isham, the school’s wellness teacher. Being physically active in the morning gets more blood and oxygen to the brain than simply sitting waiting for classes to start, which helps “start the neuron connections, like a jumpstart,” she said.

She and Angie Faraci, the school’s physical education teacher, just started the new Get Up and Move initiative — nicknamed GUM — to give students that jumpstart on learning. Since the holiday break, they’ve opened the gym for a few mornings for about 30 minutes before breakfast for fast-paced games.

“We want them moving the whole time,” Faraci said. The idea of physical activity helping kids do better in school is based on the research of Harvard professor Dr. John Ratey, who coined the concept that “exercise is Miracle-Gro for your brain.”

“When students come in and exercise first thing, they have a bigger capacity to learn for the day,” Faraci said. Ratey’s research shows that the more students move the more their brains develop. It’s also a good way to wake kids up in the morning, and students have an easier time focusing and staying calm during the day.

Faraci and Isham hosted the first Get Up and Move activity on Jan. 4 and it was a big hit. The goal is to get kids doing moderate to vigorous activity, with constant movement.

That first day they set up a game where students threw balls at different targets while doing physical activities like jumping jacks.

“As soon as you tell a kid they’re throwing something at something else, they’re in,” Faraci said. She and Isham want the activities to be things the students don’t normally do in physical education.

“More like an organized recess,” Isham said. “It’s a good way to start their day and gives them something to look forward to before they’re forced to sit in chairs and be quiet.”

Sixteen kids turned out for that first Get Up and Move, which lasted about 10 minutes. Faraci wants to slowly increase the amount of time each day’s activity lasts over the rest of the school year until kids are getting almost 30 minutes of non-stop movement before the activity ends at 7:50, giving them time for breakfast before classes start.

Those first 16 kids were pretty excited about GUM and word quickly spread; Faraci and Isham had over 40 students at the activity held earlier this week.

“Most kids are talking about it and cannot wait for the next time,” Faraci said, and she’s heard from several parents that it’s easier to get their kids out of bed on mornings the activities are planned because they want to get to school as quickly as possible.

Get Up and Move days also get more physical education time to kids who want it. Isham knows one regular who has been taking Spanish 1, which cuts into his recess time.

“He’s just happy to get into the gym and get moving to make up for that loss of recess during the day,” she said.

Once the program is really up and running, Isham and Faraci will do their own research to see if the students who regularly attend are doing better in school. They’ve also purchased pedometers through a program called Go for Sport to help students keep track of how much activity they get each day.

“Who knew the more you moved the smarter you got,” Faraci laughed.

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