Panther Run Elementary School in Wellington is teaming up with its sister school Pioneer Park Elementary in Belle Glade to help fight childhood obesity and increase literacy – at the same time.
The program, Read and Ride, will utilize donated exercise bikes inside classrooms. Children will be encouraged to ride the bikes and read at the same time.
When Physical Education teacher C.J. Cain heard about the program he wanted to implement it at Panther Run but the school didn't have any spare classrooms to hold an entire fleet of exercise bikes. So instead he decided to help start the program at Pioneer Park.
Cain is an advocate of bringing exercise and fitness into classrooms. Last fall he brought a NeuroActive Bike, also known as the "Brain Bike" to the school. That bike combines a cardio workout with brain stimulating exercises.
So far, he said, it's been a huge success. Since bringing the bike to the school he's monitored six kids and found that five of them have drastically improved their reading skills. One student went from recognizing no sight words to 61 words in just three months.
"The results [C.J.] is getting, we're getting all over the country," said Jean Blaydes Madigan, an educational consultant in Texas and founder of Action Based Learning. "I help teachers learn to use movement to help kids prepare their brains for learning. Exercise is good for the brain."
Madigan explained that the brain can't make its own fuel and can't store fuel. Exercise she said helps the fuel get to the brain. Studies, she said, show a clear link between physical activity and learning.
"When you exercise good things happen for your brain," she said.
The Read and Ride program that Cain is hoping to start began in North Carolina after school counselor Scott Ertl was at the gym riding an exercise bike and reading at the same time. That's when the idea popped in to his head.
"I was at the gym reading magazines and riding the bikes," he said. "I thought why can't we do this in our schools. There are so many exercise bikes out there that are being used more as a clothes hanger than an exercise bike."
He put the word out in the community that he was looking for bikes and within two months he had collected 41 – 11 more than he had hoped for.
"It's been really awesome," he said. "The students have logged over 4,000 miles since we've started."
So far one school in Washington State has adopted the program and another school in North Carolina is trying to get one started as well.
Word of the program has even reached the White House. Ertl said First Lady Michelle Obama's staff has contacted him twice. Obama recently launched her "Let's Move" campaign aimed at curbing childhood obesity.
Since the program uses people's old exercise bikes there's no cost. They just have to find somewhere to put them.
"The Read and Ride program is a novel way to keep students active and motivated to learn," Ertl said. "Let's inspire more schools to pedal active learning through using exercise bikes to read and ride."
Principal Suzanne Matuella of Pioneer Park is ecstatic about the program. Her school is a Title 1 school, which means 99 percent of the students are on a reduced or free lunch program.
"We're just really excited to get kids on a healthy lifestyle," she said. "As soon as we get the first bike we'll start the program and build the program from there."
Cain said getting the word out to the community has been a challenge for him so far. He's hoping when people start hearing about the program they'll start donating their old bikes.
Cain can be reached at 407-427-3808. Visit http://www.kidsreadandride.com for more information about the Read and Ride program.Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel