Students at Gilcrest Elementary School never go a day without physical activity.
Weekly 45-minute physical education classes are not enough to keep students’ minds and bodies engaged. This is ensured by sports teacher John Reid, principal and staff.
In early November, Gilcrest School launched its movement-based character education program for approximately 200 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Principal Tad McDonald and other schoolmates started an exercise program a few years ago after McDonald attended a “School of the Future” conference in the Denver area. Reid, a former US Marine with a deep personal commitment to physical activity, has tweaked and streamlined the current model.
“It leads to greater learning potential,” said McDonald, a director of Gilcrest for 13 1/2 years. “This had a significant impact on the positive outcomes in the test scores and the children’s overall satisfaction with the school day.”
Based on five pillar areas of social and emotional learning, the 30-minute morning sessions are designed to teach self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible choices through physical activity. There are five tasks for students to complete in each column, and these can encourage children to participate individually, as a class, or in teams.
“I try to connect the mental with the physical,” said Reid, a fourth-year graduate of the University of Northern Colorado at Gilcrest. “It’s about reaping the benefits of physical activity and bringing more character to who they are.”
One day, in their self-management class, the Gilcrest kids maneuvered a ping-pong ball around the gym using only a portable whiteboard. The exercise — one of frustration for some students because the rules dictated they had to start over for certain violations — was designed to teach them to control their emotions and deal with chaotic situations.
“How many of you were feeling stressed?” Reid asked the 30 or so third years. Almost all of the students raised their hand in a debriefing after the activity. Reid asked the students why the task was stressful, and the teacher heard about the challenge of controlling the hollow and bouncing ping-pong balls and their own patience.
“Ping-pong balls are the worst because they think they run the show,” Reid said, adding that self-management is talking and working through problems.
Phase one of the daily program is a warm-up of sorts to get the children involved in moderate to vigorous physical activities such as walking, jogging, sprinting or catching. Phase two then takes up the tasks in the five pillars.
Gilcrest students will work through the Five Pillars for the remainder of the year. Students in grades one through five attend both phases on a daily basis. The kindergarten children only focus on phase one.
One of Reid’s goals with the program is to “create physically literate individuals,” he said. Given the limited time Reid has with Gilcrest students in traditional physical education classes, the movement-based character program allowed him to pull moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) out of sports into morning sessions.
“Now 45 minutes feels like an hour,” Reid said. “Right now, PE is not required in Colorado. I’m fighting a losing battle. Obesity and heart disease are on the rise and I will do everything in my power to instill a level of confidence and competence in these children to take advantage of opportunities to be physically active.”
The physical activity also encourages students to drink more water. Almost immediately upon entering the gym, students place their water bottles against a wall and are encouraged to reach for drinks during movement education.
In another self-management test this week, Reid asked fifth graders about the five benefits of water. The answers were attached to small cones in the gym – where the students completed their loops. But when Reid randomly selected a handful of students to provide the answers, the class realized they were there, and they felt the pressure and stress.
Jose Perez finished the task by rattling off the five benefits – healthy heart, better mood, helps the brain and muscles and leads to glowing skin – earning the boy instant congratulations from his classmates and sharing them high fives.
In October, Reid was named the 2022 Young Professional of the Year Award Winner by SHAPE Colorado.
He was nominated by colleague and friend Breanna Jordan, a physical education and health teacher at Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School in Fort Collins and the Poudre School District.
SHAPE Colorado, a non-profit organization, is the Society of Health and Physical Educators of Colorado. Its mission is to “inspire and empower diverse professionals to improve the physical, mental, social and emotional well-being of school communities.”
Reid is hosting a presentation on the character-based movement program at next spring’s SHAPE America National Convention and Expo in Seattle.
Jordan, who attended the University of Northern Colorado’s physical education program with Reid, said she nominated him for the statewide award because “he’s one of the best physical education teachers I know.”
“John brings innovation and passion to our field and creates unique learning opportunities for his students,” Jordan wrote in an email. “John’s charismatic personality, combined with his life experience as a Marine, has proven time and time again that he is worthy of this award.”