LeROY — If you closed your eyes in the gymnasium at LeRoy Elementary School recently, you would have thought it was full of giggling, laughing children.

But the laughter was coming from about 40 adults — classroom and physical education teachers, recess monitors and even the principal.

They were skipping, “galloping” and juggling scarves, among other things, as part of a SPARK physical education workshop designed to improve students’ health and learning.

“The energy in this room is amazing,” said Principal Erin Conn, who was in the thick of the fun. “That’s what activity brings for all people.”

SPARK stands for Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids. Joan Gillem, a master SPARK instructor from California, was showing participants how various activities can be used not only to help students become more fit but also to help them to learn.

M.C. Deming, in her fourth year of teaching P.E. at LeRoy High School, said she always enjoyed P.E. because she was good at it, but some students get turned off because they don’t fit into the traditional team- and competition-oriented gym class.

“There are tons of new ideas,” Deming said. “It’s a lot more cooperative as opposed to competitive.”

Two training sessions took place in LeRoy one day near the end of winter break.

The morning session at the Replex Fitness Center was for all McLean County P.E. teachers and included teachers from LeRoy, Bloomington District 87 and Colfax-based Ridgeview school districts. An afternoon session at the school was for the LeRoy Elementary School staff and was aimed at recess and classroom activities.

Deming enjoyed the morning training so much, she decided to join the afternoon session, too.

The workshops were provided by the McLean County Health Department as part of the We Choose Health Coordinated School Health Initiative, with funding through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The whole school staff is working together to improve students’ health. It’s not just the P.E. teachers or the nurse,” explained Teri Payne, health promotion specialist at the health department. “They’re reinforcing each other. They’re collaborating and working together.”

Research has shown that some traditional P.E. classes do not keep students moving at a moderate to vigorous pace the desired 50 percent of class time, Payne said. “Enhanced P.E.” is designed to ensure students get the minimum 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended in a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The initial goal of “enhanced P.E.” was to fight childhood obesity, but research showed it benefited students in other ways, including improved learning, Payne said.

Some of the activities work in confined spaces, such as classrooms. If students are getting fidgety from inactivity, the teacher can give them a “brain break,” Payne said.

“They can engage in a positive physical activity, then they can get focused and back on task,” she said.

The learning goes beyond the classroom or even the playground.

Conn said information about the various activities is shared with parents through the school newsletter so the whole family can try them at home. The skills build on each other from class to class.

“That’s really my interest,” Conn said, “developing their lifetime skills.”

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