Now studying for her master’s, Brenna Martini ’18 is helping elementary schools in Hempstead bring physical activity into the classroom. Will that help produce healthier—and better—students?
Brenna Martini ’18 is the most decorated softball player in Adelphi history, but she knows there’s more to sports than trophies and triples.
“Physical activity makes everything in your life better,” she says.
That’s why Martini, who is now working on her master’s degree in sport management at Adelphi, is spending hours each week in local elementary schools helping children become more physically active.
She’s doing this as part of I CAN (Increasing Children’s Activity Now), an ongoing research program conducted by Kevin Mercier, Ed.D., associate professor of health and sport sciences at Adelphi. The program shows teachers ways to incorporate physical activity into their students’ daily routines, with the goal of getting kids to exercise at least 60 minutes a day. The guiding idea is that fitter kids will achieve better grades.
“A lot of research has shown active children perform better in classroom—that movement leads to better cognitive performance,” Martini says.
To inspire kids to get the exercise they need, I CAN is working with the schools to increase physical activity during daily recess periods. It has also brought twice-weekly before-school activity sessions to the schools.
But the unique aspect of I CAN is that it sneaks physical activity into the classroom. One example can be found in fourth- and fifth-grade math classes. When minds begin to wander, the teacher tells students it’s time for a physical activity break. The teacher writes an equation on the board and provides an answer. If the answer is correct, students do 10 jumping jacks; if it’s wrong, they do 10 squats. When the teacher gives the answer, the room explodes with energy, laughter and movement.
“When kids sit eight hours a day, it gets tough to keep their attention,” Martini says. “So we get them moving in class for these five- to seven-minute breaks. You’re kind of tricking them into continuing a lesson when their interest is fading.”
Students who pay attention throughout class are more likely to keep learning. And kids who keep learning make better grades.
“We think it’s a simple way to help kids get better test scores,” Martini says.
Adelphi rolled out the pilot program last fall to 600 students in a pair of schools in the Hempstead School District, a low-income district on Long Island with one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation. The need there is great, Martini says.
“For many children in Hempstead, the physical activity they receive in school is all they’ll get,” she says. “Few of the children play on sports teams, and many stay inside after school because they live in neighborhoods that can be too dangerous for unsupervised play.”
To see if increased physical activity during the school day leads to better grades, Martini and Dr. Mercier will compare the students’ final test scores on math and reading in May to previous years’ scores. If the program is successful, Adelphi will roll it out to two more elementary schools in Hempstead next year.
Already, teachers at the schools tell Martini they see a difference. The program’s effect on students is clear to Martini, too. “Kids’ faces light up when I walk into a room and they know they’re going to do something active,” she says.
Seeing how the children respond to Zumba at recess, tag before school and exercise in the classroom has inspired Martini.
“I realize helping people to be active is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she says. “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about teaching them to feel good.”
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